The Unbearable Silence about the Jewish Refugees

Gatestone Institute 16 December 2012
By Michael Curtis

The status of those Jews as refugees has been found to be in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees.

The UNHCR announced on two occasions, in February 1957 and in July 1967, that Jews who fled from Arab countries "may be considered prima facie within the mandate of this office," thus regarding them, according to international law, as bona fide refugees.

The Palestinian narrative of victimhood, emphasizing the pitiful condition of Palestinian refugees, and portraying them as the world's major refugee problem, has convinced many in the international community to accept this version of their unfortunate plight and the injustices done to them.

That narrative, however, essentially one of historical revisionism, denies the truth that the Jews who left, fled, or were expelled from Arab countries can really be regarded as refugees, as well.

The story of these Jewish refugees has been much less well known than that of the Palestinian refugees, about whose fate international resolutions have been passed, and on whose behalf thirteen UN agencies and organizations have provided aid. The issue of the legitimate rights of the Jewish refugees, and the individual and collective loss of their assets, have not yet been seriously addressed; nor have there been any real attempts in international forums at the restitution of their rights and assets.

The contrast is startling. Between 1949 and 2009 there were 163 resolutions passed in the UN General Assembly dealing with Palestinian refugees; there was not one on Jewish refugees. Similarly, since 1968, the UN Human Rights Council (formerly Commission) has adopted 132 resolutions dealing with the plight of the Palestinian refugees, but not one directed to the Jewish refugees from Arab countries.

Other specialized agencies of the UN have been specifically established, or charged, to pay attention to the Palestinian refugees. These refugees have benefited from international financial assistance; the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), since 1950, has provided over $13 billion (in 2007 prices). Jewish refugees have received nothing from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the international organization dealing with refugees all over the world except Palestinians, who have the UNRWA solely devoted to them.

The status of those Jews as refugees, although challenged, has been found to be in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees, which established the definition of "refugee," and which was adopted in July 1951, and entered into force in April 1954.

Jews had been living in what are today Arab countries for over more than 2,500 years, going back to the Babylonian captivity. In 1948, they still accounted for 3.6 per cent of the population in Libya, 2.8 per cent in Morocco, and 2.6 per cent in Iraq. Their social ranking varied in the different countries. In Iraq and Egypt some Jews were successful in occupations and professions, and played some role in their societies; in Yemen and Morocco they were generally uneducated and poor.

In general, Jews in Arab countries living under Islamic rule, were treated as dhimmis, barely tolerated second class citizens, often obliged to pay a tithe, or tax, called a jizya, to remain in the country. In some places, they were allowed limited religious, educational, and business, opportunities, but in other places, they were denied civil and human rights; suffered legal discrimination; had property taken, and were deprived of citizenship. (...)