Silvan Shalom on Iran.
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
UNITED NATIONS – MK Silvan Shalom came to the United Nations on Thursday night with a request: “Help me redress the footsteps of the one million Jews from Arab countries and Iran,” he said. “Help me tell their story. It is time that the world hears about the greatest untold story in the Middle East.”
Shalom, who is the energy and water minister, addressed the conference on “The Untold Story of the Middle East: Justice for Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries,” hosted by the World Jewish Congress, marking the 65th anniversary when one million Jews were forced out of their homes in Arab countries.
Shalom is himself one of the Tunisian Jews who fled his country for Israel in 1959, after the new independent government, elected in 1956, began passing anti-Jewish laws.
He spoke of how the Jobar synagogue near Damascus was burned earlier in 2013, and how communities in Iraq, and Yemen, which were once thriving, are now “desolate cemeteries.”
“Today, much of the world remains silent on this issue. This injustice cannot continue. The Arab countries must accept responsibility for the billions of dollars of property confiscated, and for the suffering of the one million Jews who had no choice but to flee for their lives.”
Shalom also said the UN had to accept its share of responsibility for past events.
“In this institution, we hear a great deal about the suffering of the Palestinian refugees,” Shalom said. “But we never hear about the suffering of the one million Jewish refugees.”
Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor noted that since 1947, the UN had passed 687 resolutions relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, 111 of which dealt specifically with Palestinian refugees.
“And yet, there is not one resolution that says a single word about Jewish refugees. This is a chapter in the chronicles of history which seems to have fallen off the shelf. They are the UN’s forgotten refugees.
“By making the Palestinians the poster children for international victimhood, the Arab states believe they hold a perm trump card to defame and pressure Israel,” Prosor said.
“Sixty-five years, and the Arab states have never yet been held accountable for the crimes that they committed.
We cannot and will not allow the history of the Jewish refugees to be swept under the Persian rug.”
Other speakers included Ron Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress; Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations; and Sylvain Abitbol, a Moroccan Jew who described himself as “one of the lucky ones,” who is now Canadian and co-president of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries.
Four other refugees also addressed the conference; Lucette Lagnado and Levana Zamir, both of whom fled Egypt with their families; Linda Menuchin an Iraqi Jew; and Toufik Kassab, a Syrian Jew who left recently. Each told stories of confusion, violence and heartbreak as their families were either forced to leave, or felt they had no choice but to leave.
Lagnado, now a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, said that the story of the Jews from Arab countries is “pretty much consistently denied or ignored.”
Menuchin, who spoke after Lagnado, said “my homeland is not a suitcase, and I’m not a passenger.
“My father was so fond of Iraq. I don’t know if he could ever imagine that Iraq would betray him the way it did,” Menuchin said.
Zamir, president of the International Association of Jews from Egypt, told about how at midnight on May 14, 1948, when she was 10, Egyptian officers broke into her family’s home and searched it, emptying closets and cutting apart mattresses. Her uncle was accused of being a Zionist and taken to prison. The government then confiscated her family’s business and assets, and her family fled to France.
Today, Zamir said, Israel is “a huge refugee camp, but a prosperous one.”