As the assault on Palestinian’s existence marches on, Israel’s foreign ministry is up to it’s ol’ tricks again. Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon’s latest hasbara campaign is for ‘Justice for Jewish refugees from Arab countries‘.
Unsurprisingly the campaign is designed to “legitimately” absolve the Israeli government of responsibility for compensating Palestinian refugees, the reiteration of a plan that been around since before Israel’s founding, resuscitated in the 1970’s and again at the turn of the century.
Well here’s a fresh statement from the Ramat Gan Committee of Baghdadi Jews, utterly rejecting the effort.
A) We most sincerely thank the Israeli government for confirming our status as refugees following a rapid, 62-year-long evaluation of our documents.
B) We request that Ashkenazi Jews are also recognized as refugees so that they won’t consider sending to our homes the courteous officers of the Oz immigration enforcement unit.
C) We are seeking to demand compensation for our lost property and assets from the Iraqi government – NOT from the Palestinian Authority – and we will not agree with the option that compensation for our property be offset by compensation for the lost property of others (meaning, Palestinian refugees) or that said compensation be transferred to bodies that do not represent us (meaning, the Israeli government).
D) We demand the establishment of an investigative committee to examine: 1) if and by what means negotiations were carried out in 1950 between Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri as-Said, and if Ben-Gurion informed as-Said that he is authorized to take possession of the property and assets of Iraqi Jewry if he agreed to send them to Israel; 2) who ordered the bombing of the Masouda Shem-Tov synagogue in Baghdad, and if the Israeli Mossad and/or its operatives were involved. If it is determined that Ben-Gurion did, in fact, carry out negotiations over the fate of Iraqi Jewish property and assets in 1950, and directed the Mossad to bomb the community’s synagogue in order to hasten our flight from Iraq, we will file a suit in an international court demanding half of the sum total of compensation for our refugee status from the Iraqi government and half from the Israeli government.
E) Blessings for a happy new year, a year of peace and prosperity, a year of tranquility and fertility.
~ The Ramat Gan Committee of Baghdadi Jews
These “Jewish refugees from Arab countries” are Mizrahi, Arab Jews who now compromise 50% of Israel’s population. Barak Ravid at Haaretz states the intent of the “refugees” campaign:
It is in Israel’s interest to create a connection between the issues of the Jewish and Palestinian refugees, the document said, so Israel should present them as a single issue in all negotiations. “It’s necessary to instill the duality of the term refugee into international discourse. Linking these issues will serve Israel in the negotiations.”
Specifically, it said, such linkage would deter excessive claims on behalf of the Palestinian refugees, or at least moderate them.
Lara Friedman’s Exploiting Jews from Arab Countries and Ben White’s A new hasbara campaign: Countering the ‘Arab Narrative’ both provide excellent overviews of the campaign. It began in earnest in 1975, with the founding of the World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries (WOJAC)–“as a deterrent to block claims harbored by the Palestinian national movement”.
Yehouda Shenhav explains how the term “Jewish refugee”, pertaining to Mizrahi Jews, first originated in an article titled, Hitching a ride on the magic carpet:
The WOJAC figure who came up with the idea of “Jewish refugees” was Yaakov Meron, head of the Justice Ministry’s Arab legal affairs department. Meron propounded the most radical thesis ever devised concerning the history of Jews in Arab lands. He claimed Jews were expelled from Arab countries under policies enacted in concert with Palestinian leaders – and he termed these policies “ethnic cleansing.” … Meron claimed that Zionism had relied on romantic, borrowed phrases (“Magic Carpet,” “Operation Ezra and Nehemiah”) in the description of Mizrahi immigration waves to conceal the “fact” that Jewish migration was the result of “Arab expulsion policy.” In a bid to complete the analogy drawn between Palestinians and Mizrahi Jews, WOJAC publicists claimed that the Mizrahi immigrants lived in refugee camps in Israel during the 1950s (i.e., ma’abarot or transit camps), just like the Palestinian refugees.
The organization’s claims infuriated many Mizrahi Israelis who defined themselves as Zionists. As early as 1975, at the time of WOJAC’s formation, Knesset speaker Yisrael Yeshayahu declared: “We are not refugees. [Some of us] came to this country before the state was born. We had messianic aspirations.”
The idea of exchanging Palestinian property claims for those of Mizrahi’s has been around since the founding of the state. In Yehouda Shenhav’s must read article What do Palestinians and Arab-Jews Have in Common?, he writes:
Police Minister Behor Shitrit was the first, in March 1949, to raise the question of the “situation of Iraq’s Jews” in the cabinet.(8) Shitrit said he was worried about the situation of the Jews in Iraq after Zionism had been outlawed; at one stage, he proposed that the property of Israeli Arabs be held hostage for Jewish property in Iraq. This idea, however, was rejected out of hand by the Israeli Foreign Ministry. (Segev, 1984: 96) In September 1949, Shitrit again raised what he called “the problem of the Jews in the Arab lands” in the cabinet. He asked whether the Foreign Ministry had taken steps to assist them: “… I would like to know if there is any way to abet their rescue…if it is possible to arrive at some agreement on a ‘transfer’ [emphasis added] in terms of both property and people, and to take up the matter with the UN institutions and inform the world…”(9) In this discussion, Sharett for the first time spoke about Jewish property in the Arab countries. He cited the absence of a peace treaty with Iraq as the reason for his negative attitude toward possible cooperation with the government in Baghdad:
To address at this time the question of transferring the property of Jews to Israel – that would be naive. We are talking about an agreement, about establishing peace, and we are not budging – will we suddenly succeed in removing the question of the Jews from that framework and getting the Arab states to accept an agreement regarding the Jews who reside in those countries? I am not blessed with that kind of diplomatic skill! Such thinking is quixotic.(10)
For the sake of balance, Sharett did not forget to point out that hundreds of families had arrived in Israel from Egypt and were being provided with housing by the government. It was apparently not by chance that Sharett linked these new arrivals with Palestinian property in Israel: “I met one of these families which had already settled in one of the abandoned villages – people who had come from Egypt just a day or two before.” Sharett’s linkage of Jewish property and Arab property, here presented only associatively, would in time be developed into an ideological thesis and official practice of the Israeli government.
Quixotic indeed. Too bad it didn’t end with Shitrit’s 1949 statement. This has been a relentless campaign from the get go. When Haaretz’s Ravid seeks to frame this as a recent initiative– “For decades, Israel has refrained from raising the issue of the Jewish refugees” –he defies history.
[A] raison d’état it enabled the Israeli government to “legitimately” absolve itself of responsibility for compensating the Palestinian refugees (4). Moreover, Israel’s nationalization of the identity and property of Iraq’s Jews in its relentless drive to articulate Jewish nationalism served as a bargaining policy with which to deny Palestinian nationality. This article confirms that the Jews of Iraq became an instrument in a decision-making process from which they were excluded and which rested on basic assumptions they did not necessarily share. Furthermore, I draw on another source of archival data in order to document how WOJAC (World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries) responded to the theory employed by the Israeli State. WOJAC strove to facilitate the linkage between the property of Iraqi Jews and the property of the Palestinian refugees. But, as it turned out, the organization’s non-Israeli members challenged these assumptions and developed a form of resistance against them.
Iraq was an important station in the land transfer of Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe, who had reached the Soviet-Iranian border. In order to secure their entry into Palestine, it was essential to have permanent assistance along a route on which Iraq and Iran were major stations (Meir, 1973). The Zionist movement in Europe therefore maintained that it was essential to establish a Zionist center in Iraq. A second reason for taking an interest in Iraqi Jewry presented itself when the leaders of the Yishuv grasped the scale of the Holocaust and realized that European Jewry was cut off: to improve the Jewish demographic balance in Palestine. (Meir, 1993) Like Jews from other Islamic countries, the Jews of Iraq were considered a key population reservoir that could tilt the demographic balance in Palestine in the Jews’ favor. The geographical proximity between Iraq and Palestine was considered an exploitable advantage: “It is easier [for us] to get there… and for them, too, it is easier to reach the Land of Israel.”(6)
The possibility that Iraq’s Jews could remain in their native land – the so-called “Iraqi option” (Qazzaz, 1991) – was rendered unfeasible
(Hat tip Omar Barghouti)