Parity for refugees from Arab lands, at long last

An international conference will take place in Jerusalem next week. That by itself is not news. However, the conference topic — the pursuit of justice for Jewish refugees from Arab and Muslim countries — is indeed a headline maker.

This prestigious gathering, sponsored by the World Jewish Congress, marks a turning point in much overdue recognition for the nearly 900,000 Jews who fled their homes in Arab lands after the founding of the State of Israel.

One of the leading organizations to take up this cause, San Francisco–based JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa), will be represented at the Sept. 9-10 conference. Both Libyan-born president Gina Waldman and director Sarah Levin will participate, along with scores of academics, members of Knesset, ambassadors and Israel’s deputy foreign minister.

This issue, which has been on the geopolitical backburner for far too long, is coming to the fore.

The Knesset is on record demanding that Arab nations compensate Israelis who faced persecution and were forced to flee their native lands. By law, Israel now must include the compensation issue in all present and future bilateral peace talks.

Last month, Israel launched an online campaign called “I Am a Refugee,” in which Israelis from Iraq, Libya and other Arab countries upload video testimonials about their ordeals. The campaign’s creator, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, is himself the son of an Algerian Jewish refugee.

It’s not in Israel alone that the issue has caught fire.

Currently working their way through the House of Representatives and the Senate are bipartisan companion bills that would recognize the displaced Jewish refugees from Arab countries.

Moreover, this legislation would call on the Obama administration to accompany any reference to Palestinian refugees with a reference to the Jewish refugees.

Unlike many Palestinian refugees who have spent the last 64 years bewailing their status, Jewish refugees from Arab lands typically have not pleaded their cases to the world. They have gotten on with their lives in Israel, North America and throughout the diaspora.

Yet their claims are every bit as valid.

Thankfully, their cause has never flickered out, and is now picking up momentum.

We congratulate JIMENA on its historic participation in the Jerusalem conference, and we hope the world will finally bend toward justice for these Jewish refugees.