Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon on Monday called for the recognition of the rights of Jewish refugees from Arab countries for the purpose of justice and to counter the “Arab narrative” of the Israeli- Arab conflict.

Ayalon was speaking in Jerusalem at the “Justice for Jewish refugees from Arab countries” symposium, put on jointly by the Foreign Ministry, the Ministry for Senior Citizens and the World Jewish Congress (WJC) as part of a broad diplomatic campaign to bring the issue to international attention.

In a video message to the conference, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said his government was “fully committed to ensuring Jewish refugees are not forgotten.”

According to Foreign Ministry figures, approximately 850,000 Jews from Arab states across the Middle East fled their native countries following the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 due to state-sponsored persecution. Most were forced to abandon their property and possessions.

A declaration by the two ministries and the WJC was released at the conclusion of the symposium, calling on the UN to place the issue of Jewish refugees on the agenda of the United Nations and its affiliated forums.

“We will not be silent and we will not give up until Jewish refugees from Arab countries receive international recognition from the international community and the Arab League,” Ayalon said.

As part of the campaign to put the issue on the international agenda, the Foreign Ministry has instructed Israeli embassies around the world, including at the UN in Geneva and New York, to raise the matter in all official government meetings and with parliamentarians.

“Jewish refugees from Arab lands deserve to have their story told, their history known, their rights recognized and the justice of their cause accepted,” Ayalon continued, “not just for the sake of memory, but to stand in opposition to the Arab narrative, which has been allowed to stand uncontested for too long.” The deputy foreign minister added that “the extreme and babbling responses” of Palestinian officials on the matter shows “they have no answer to this issue except to say that it simply doesn’t exist,” but that the facts “belie the Palestinian attempts at historic revisionism.”

Earlier this month, Hanan Ashrawi, a prominent member of the PLO Executive Committee and a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, rejected the assertion that Jews left Arab countries because of persecution.

“[The] claim that Jews who migrated to Israel, which is supposed to be their homeland, are ‘refugees’ who were uprooted from their homelands... is a form of deception and delusion.... If Israel is their homeland, then they are not ‘refugees’; they are emigrants who returned either voluntarily or due to a political decision.”

Ashrawi added that Jews from Arab countries left “in accordance with a forethought plan by the Jewish Agency to bring Jews from all around the world to build the State of Israel.”

Also present at the symposium was US Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), who proposed and helped pass legislation in the House of Representatives in 2008 recognizing as refugees Jews who fled Arab countries.

Nadler said it is wrong to recognize and deal with the rights and plight of Palestinian refugees, and not Jewish refugees.

Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Canadian MP and former minister of justice Irwin Cotler insisted that Israel-Palestinian negotiations were the correct forum within which to discuss the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab countries.

“It was both the Palestinian leadership as well as the broader Arab leadership which rejected having a Jewish state alongside a separate Palestinian state, that launched a war against the nascent State of Israel, and this ‘double rejectionism’ of the Palestinian and Arab leadership persists today,” Cotler said.

He added that this “double rejectionism” had to be seen in the context of a “double aggression” in which Arab leaders attacked the State of Israel but also “turned on their own Jewish nationals living in Arab countries,” and that today’s Arab leadership must acknowledge its role in the “double rejectionism” and “double aggression,” and that the Palestinian leadership “cannot connive in that rejectionism and aggression.”

Cotler also said that the wording of UN Security Council Resolution 242, that “a just settlement of the refugee problem” be found, was designed specifically to refer to both Jewish and Arab refugees, and that the resolution was accepted by the Palestinians as the basis for negotiations.

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