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Putting Jewish Refugees on the U.N. Agenda

A new initiative focuses on Jews expelled from Arab countries in 1948

Morton Landowne
September 24, 2012
Danny Ayalon at 'The Untold Story of the Middle East: Justice for Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries'(Morton Landowne)
Danny Ayalon at 'The Untold Story of the Middle East: Justice for Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries'(Morton Landowne)

If the U.N. has its way, the only refugees likely to be mentioned in this fall’s General Assembly, set to open tomorrow, are the Palestinians. After all, there have been more than 172 resolutions exclusively devoted to Palestinian refugees, but not one dedicated to Jewish refugees. But Danny Ayalon wants to change that.

Last Friday, at an event hosted by the Israeli Mission to the U.N., Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister announced to a crowd of 500 people at Turtle Bay that the Jewish State is determined to “bring justice” to a different group of refugees: The 856,000 Jews who were expelled from Arab countries during the birth of the State of Israel.

What exactly does justice look like? Echoing Bill Clinton’s call in July 2000 for an International Fund administered by the U.N. to compensate all people who were made refugees by the 1948 war, Ayalon announced that Israel will make the creation of such a fund a precondition of any peace agreement with the Palestinians.

In addition, Ayalon announced to the attendees–which included U.N. ambassadors from Canada, Germany, and New Zealand–that in the coming weeks Israel will propose a national memorial day for Jewish refugees in order to “celebrate the heritage of Jews from Arab lands,” and that the government will establish a museum in Jerusalem to memorialize and teach that history, and inaugurate curricula in its school system so that “our children know the truth.”

It seemed clear that underlying these various announcements was a determination by Israel’s Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, to insist that a resolution of the refugee issue, one of the key Palestinian demands in any final peace settlement, must include an apology and compensation to Jewish refugees. “There will be no peace,” Ayalon stated, “without solving the refugee problem on both sides of the divide.” He continued:

“This has not been designed as a smokescreen, or an obstacle to peace; the world has long recognized the Palestinian refugee problem and the time has now come to recognize the Jewish refugee problem. If there will be a real peace, it must be based on truth and justice.”

The event, co-sponsored by the World Jewish Congress (WJC) and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (CP) was titled: “The Untold Story of the Middle East: Justice for Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries.” It also featured remarks by Ron Prosor, the Permanent Representative of Israel to the U.N., Ronald Lauder, WJC President, CP Executive Vice Chairman Malcolm Hoenlein, Irwin Cotler, Former Canadian Justice Minister, Professor Alan Dershowitz, and testimonies from Lebanese born Rabbi Elie Abadi, and Iraqi exile, Edwin Shuker. Fittingly, it took place during the U.N.’s annual “International Day of Peace,” which featured other programs, including an address by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Daw Aung San Sun Kyi.

Morton Landowne is the executive director of Nextbook Inc.