Jewish refugees from Yemen cross desert 370.
(photo credit: Courtesy Israeli National Photo Archive)
The Foreign Ministry – along with the World Jewish Congress and the Pensioners
Affairs Ministry – is ramping up its campaign to bring the issue of Jewish
refugee rights to public and diplomatic attention.
According to the
Foreign Ministry more than 850,000 Jews from Arab states fled their countries of
birth following persecution that ensued after the establishment of the State of
Israel in 1948. Many also had their property confiscated.
The Jerusalem Post on Monday, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon and Deputy
Pensioners Affairs Minister Lea Nass said the government was currently
finalizing plans to institute a national day of recognition for Jewish refugees
from Arab countries. It is also planning to build a museum to document the
historical events of these communities, as well as their cultural heritage;
collate testimony from thousands of refugees; and bring the issue front and
center on the diplomatic stage.
Ayalon also pointed to legislation passed
in the Knesset in 2010 obliging any government conducting peace negotiations
with the Palestinians to include the issue of compensation for Jewish refugees
as part of any final status talks.
“This is one of the core issues,” the
deputy minister said. “It is not separate and certainly, when it comes to
negotiations, it will be part and parcel of the refugee issue as a
Ayalon denied that the campaign was designed to hinder the peace
process, adding that even if that were the case Israel was already being accused
“They say we’re not ready for peace anyway, but this
is not a reason not to do what is just and right for hundreds of thousands of
people,” he said.
“This is not a reason not to show a mirror in front of
the entire world, in particular the Arab countries.”
Ayalon also insisted
that Israel-Palestinian negotiations were the correct forum for advancing the
rights of Jewish refugees from Arab countries, saying the linkage stemmed from
historical precedents following wars on the Indian subcontinent and
He added that part of the proposals made in the Arab Peace
Initiative suggesting that an Israeli settlement with the Palestinians should
bring peace and normalization with the entire Arab world, meant that the Jewish
refugee issue should be dealt with in this comprehensive manner.
Pensioners Affairs Ministry, which was given responsibility for the issue in
2009, has taken the lead on the documentation of testimony from refugees and
their descendants. Nass explained that it was critical to record the stories of
the refugees, who, she said, had largely been forgotten.
people left behind their property, their stories and their history,” said Nass.
“It’s important in our religion to first of all tell the story. The story has
disappeared, and when we meet these people they express great pain that it has
not been told.”
The ministry has digitized 20,000 documents pertaining to
the Jewish refugees and will next week actively begin to collect further such
documents and testimony, in coordination with various interest groups representing Jews from Arab countries.
project, named “I am a refugee” and having an initial budget of NIS 2 million,
calls on refugees and their descendants to come forward and present their
stories, documents, pictures and other records to create an archive similar to
that in Yad Vashem for victims of the Holocaust.
World Jewish Congress
(WJC) secretary-general Dan Diker praised the cooperation of the Foreign
Ministry and the Pensioners Affairs Ministry, saying progress being made on the
issue would not have been possible without them.
Diker also focused on
the need to advance legislation in governments around the world, as well as at
the UN, to ensure that the issue was given sufficient attention and
“This government, along with the WJC, is advancing this issue as
a global Jewish project of highest urgency,” he said. “We are taking a position,
we’re insisting on rights based diplomacy and we’re saying enough is
The Foreign Ministry and the WJC will be staging a media event
at the United Nations headquarters in New York in September to gain media and
diplomatic attention. It will coincide with the beginning of the UN General
Assembly session. Along with the Pensioners Affairs Ministry, it will also hold
an international conference in September called “Justice for Jewish Refugees
from Arab Countries.”