Yemenite Jews in a ma’abara (transit camp) in the 1950s
UNESCO has come under fire for insisting on the withdrawal from its Paris exhibition on the Jewish people’s age-old relationship with the Land of Israel a panel telling the story of Jews driven from Arab countries. In this piece for the Jerusalem Post, David Matas articulates brilliantly the reasons why this story does more to combat anti-Zionism than any other. If we can learn that lesson from the UNESCO cover-up, it will have done us a favour.
The exhibit had one gaping hole: the story of the movement of Jews from
Arab countries to Israel. There is one sentence in the panel titled
“Israel among the nations” which says, “By 1968, Middle Eastern Jews
already represented 48% of the entire Jewish migration to Israel.” And
that is more or less it.
Robert Wistrich had prepared a panel on Jews from Arab countries for
the exhibit, but UNESCO vetoed it. It was made clear to Wistrich and
the Simon Wiesenthal Center that, if they insisted on this particular
panel, the exhibit would not take place.
The exhibit counters many different elements of anti-Zionist
propaganda. Why was there silence on this issue pertaining to the
history of the migration of Jews from Arab countries to Israel, the red
line for anti-Zionists? The answer is that this story does more to
counter anti-Zionist mythology than any other. (Emphasis added)
Anti-Zionist mythology says that Jews are outsiders who have come from Europe and North America to colonize Arab territory.
The fact that half of the Jews of Israel are descendants of those who
have lived continuously in the region since time immemorial undermines
Anti-Zionist mythology portrays Palestinian refugees as victims of the
creation of the State of Israel. The fact that there were two displaced
populations and that the Jewish displaced population was more numerous
than the Palestinian one shifts the blame for refugee victimization to
the place where it belongs: anti-Zionists and their attacks on the
existence of the State of Israel.
Anti-Zionists attempt to mobilize sympathy for the underdog by
portraying the Palestinians as victims and Israelis as perpetrators.
The existence of an even larger population of displaced Jewish victims
from Arab states guts this narrative of Palestinians as unique
Jews expelled or driven out from Arab countries were resettled outside
the region or locally integrated in Israel. Anti-Zionists have refused
to contemplate for Palestinians either resettlement or local
integration; anti-Zionists would rather keep that population in
enforced misery as hostages to anti-Zionist rhetoric, as fodder for
propaganda against the existence of Israel. The contrast between the
hospitality Israel has offered to Jewish refugees and the hostility
Arab states have manifested to Palestinian refugees is stark.
Anti-Zionists want to ensure that this contrast remains hidden.
It was irrational for Arab states, at one and the same time to combat
the existence of a Jewish state and to be instrumental in its creation
through the expulsion of their Jewish populations, who inevitably, for
the most part, ended up in Israel. The only consistent explanation for
both Arab state behaviors is hatred for Jews in their midst. That is a
story that, understandably, Arab states did not want told.
Palestinian peace negotiators have argued that whatever injustice was
done to Jewish refugees from Arab countries was not inflicted by the
Palestinians. This position ignores the fact that many of the Jewish
refugees generated by the wars against the existence of Israel, about
40,000, came from the West Bank and Gaza.
Be that as it may, the refusal of Arab states to confront the reality
of the injustice to Jews from Arab countries, which their opposition to
the insertion of this issue in the UNESCO exhibit illustrates, means
that if the issue is not dealt with in Palestinian-Israeli
negotiations, it is not likely to be dealt with at all.
We need to take a cue from the anti-Zionists’ own rankings. If what is
central to the core of anti-Zionist propaganda is the covering up of
the story of Jews from Arab countries, then that story must be central
to combating anti-Zionism. If we can learn that lesson from the UNESCO
cover up, it will have done us a favor.