Who are the Jewish refugees?
Under international law, Jews displaced from Arab countries were indeed bona fide refugees, subject to full UN protection
Jewish refugees arrive in Palestine Photo: REUTERS
I refer to the Sept. 1, 2012 article in The Jerusalem Post entitled “PLO's
Ashrawi: No such Thing as Jewish Refugees.” Ahrawi states that the "claim
that Jews who emigrated to Israel…are 'refugees' …is a form of deception and
delusion." In fact, in asserting so, it is Ashrawi who is guilty of
deception and delusion.
By contending that "If Israel is their homeland,
then they are not 'refugees'” she betrays her ignorance of international law
and Middle East history.
She is obviously not aware of, or has chosen to
ignore the fact, that on two occasions, in 1957 and again in 1967, the United
Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) determined that Jews fleeing from
Arab countries were legally refugees who fell within the mandate of the
In the first instance, referring to Jews displaced from Egypt, the
UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Auguste Lindt, in his Report to the UNREF
Executive Committee’s Fourth Session (Geneva 29 January to 4 February, 1957)
announced that: “Another emergency problem is now arising: that of refugees from
Egypt. There is no doubt in my mind that those refugees from Egypt who are not
able, or not willing to avail themselves of the protection of the Government of
their nationality fall under the mandate of my office.”
reference to Jews from Arab countries as refugees was discovered in a July 6,
1967 letter from Dr. E. Jahn, of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for
Refugees which confirms: “I refer to our recent discussion concerning Jews from
Middle Eastern and North African countries in consequence of recent events. I am
now able to inform you that such persons may be considered prima facie within
the mandate of this Office.”
Therefore, under international law, Jews
displaced from these Arab countries were indeed bona fide refugees, subject to
the full protection of the United Nations High Commissioner for
Ashrawi compounds her deception by claiming that “Jews were
not singled out…The emigration of Jews was a voluntary act.” In fact, Jews were
specifically singled out in many decrees enacted by numerous Arab regimes which
stripped Jews of their citizenship, and deprived them of civil and human rights.
By way of example: On March 9, 1950, the Official Iraqi Gazette published Law
No. 1 of 1950, entitled “Supplement to Ordinance Cancelling Iraqi Nationality,”
which was enacted to deprive Jews of their Iraqi nationality. Section 1
stipulated that “the Council of Ministers may cancel the Iraqi nationality of
the Iraqi Jew who willingly desires to leave Iraq,” a decree singling out
The first Nationality Code, Article 10(4), promulgated by Egypt on
May 26, 1926, established that a person born in Egypt of a "foreign" father was
entitled to Egyptian nationality only if the foreign father “belonged racially
to the majority of the population of a country whose language is Arabic or whose
religion is Islam.” The requirement operated against Jews in Egypt, a great
proportion of whom could therefore not acquire Egyptian nationality. Later, during
the fifties, having failed to become "Egyptian," this provision served as the
official pretext for expelling many Jews from Egypt.
On Aug 8th 1962, the
Council of Ministers announced a Royal Decree which provided that a Libyan
national forfeited his nationality if he had had any contact with Zionism,
defined as any person deemed to have acted “morally or materially in favor of
Israel interests." The vague language enabled the authorities to deprive Jews of
Libyan nationality at will. It is true that many Jews displaced from Arab
countries did immigrate to Israel to fulfill the Zionist dream of returning to
the ancient homeland of the Jewish people. However, Ashrawi ignores the fact
that of the estimated 856,000 Jews displaced from Arab countries, some
two-thirds emigrated to Israel, while roughly one-third - or 285,000 Jews -
sought a safe haven in countries other than Israel. Zionism played no role in
their departure and many would have preferred to stay.
Jews have lived in
North Africa, the Middle East and the Gulf Region for over 2,500 years – 1,000 years before the birth of Islam. In the twentieth century, all were caught
in a "push-pull" scenario. Due to longstanding and mounting persecution, Jews in
most Arab countries realized that there was no long term future for them and
their families in their countries of birth - the push theory. In deciding where
to go, for many, the pull theory was paramount - resettle in the Jewish homeland
in Israel. However, whether Jews displaced from Arab countries resettled in
Israel or elsewhere, they were still considered by the UNHCR, under
international law, to be refugees.
Asrawi is being disingenuous in
expressing the hope that Jews would be allowed to return to Arab countries. She
knows well that there are no democratic Arab regimes that respect pluralism.Does
she expect Jews to return to Arab countries where anti- Semitism is rampant and
Jews, at best, would return to the second-class status of dhimmis (non-Muslim subjects of a Muslim state)? Ashrawi is
correct in drawing a distinction between Arab and Jewish refugees. Indeed, there
is a fundamental distinction between the two narratives.
her doors to hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from Arab countries,
granted them citizenship, and tried, under very difficult circumstances, to
absorb them into Israeli society.
By contrast, the Arab world, with the
sole exception of Jordan, turned their backs on displaced Palestinian
The writer is the Executive Vice President of Justice for Jews
from Arab Countries.