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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Plight of Jews from Arab lands highlighted

It always amazes me to see how much attention the world pays to Palestinian refugees and their descendents, and how little to the larger number of Jewish refugees, direct victims of bigotry by Arab nations.

It is equally amazing how the Arab countries, who pride themselves on their hospitality, have kept Palestinian Arabs in refugee camps for decades while Israel, which was extraordinarily poor in the late 40s and 50s, was able to absorb the Jewish refugees.
An international conference promoting the rights of Jews from Arab lands, held in London, is intended to be the springboard for a worldwide campaign to highlight the plight of Jews who fled or were pushed out of Arab lands.

It is Hosted by the British Board of Deputies, the umbrella group of British Jewry, this conference is intended to be the springboard for a worldwide campaign to highlight the plight of Jews who fled or were pushed out of Arab lands.

The conference, held last Sunday and Monday, was attended by Jews from 14 nations across the globe. Organised by the World Organization for Jews from Arab Countries and Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, Jewish representatives from 14 nations met to create the steering committee for the International Campaign for Rights and Redress.

The conference was hosted by the Board of Deputies, the umbrella group of British Jewry.

The Jews from Arab lands were expelled or fled when Israel was created. They came from all Arab lands, eg Libya, Egypt, Syria, Morrocco, Algeria, Lebanon.

Stanley Urman, Executive Director of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries spoke about the importance of this first step. "It is a commitment by Jewish communities in 14 countries on five continents to once and for all document the historical injustice perpetrated against Jews in Arab countries," Urman said. "It is not just a theoretical and educational exercise, it is concrete."

The campaign will document and collate information about the Jews who were dispersed. Urman spoke of the need to create this campaign as attempts to collect information thus far had not been successful. "At the moment it is woefully inadequate and it will not allow anyone to assert the issue of Jewish refugees with credibility and efficiency."

Moroccan Jew craftsman

“When people speak of refugees, everyone thinks immediately of Palestinian refugees. It’s not well known that there were more Jews displaced from Arab countries (856,000) than Palestinian refugees (725,000) in 1948, according to UN estimates. It’s time for this issue to assume its rightful place on the international agenda,” Urman continued.

The displaced Jews were recognized as refugees by the United Nations, but there was virtually no international response to their plight. Palestinian refugees frequently cite UN General Assembly Resolution 181 as a justification for redress, but it is almost always forgotten that this resolution applies to Jewish refugee’s as well.

The Board of Deputies hosting this important event has given it an important stamp of approval and validation.

"We are delighted to play a key role in this crucial project," said Henry Grunwald, President of the Board of Deputies. "The plight of Jews from Arab countries is all too often a cause that we in the wider Jewish community forget, and we must act to educate and raise awareness of this important issue."

The International Campaign for Rights and Redress will launch officially in March with a special month of commemoration to highlight the torture, detention, loss of citizenship and seizure of property suffered by many Jewish refugees.