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Special Interview the ‘jewish Side’ of the Refugee Problem in the Mideast

In an effort to inform the American public that the Middle East refugee problem also has a “Jewish side,” the World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries (WOJAC) is undertaking a major campaign here to mobilize activity for the cause of Jewish refugees from Arab lands.

WOJAC’s chairman, Mordechai Ben Porat, who is currently a member of the Israeli Mission to the United Nations General Assembly, said in an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab countries is being discussed with American officials, Congressmen, Jewish leaders and representatives of the media.

“We want to reach a maximum number of Americans, to let them know that there are not only Arab refugees as a result of the Mideast conflict, but also Jewish refugees. The only difference is that the Jewish refugees were absorbed and integrated in Israeli society, while the Arab refugees were left to live in misery by their Arab brothers,” Ben Porat said.

ISSUE WILL BE BROUGHT BEFORE UN ASSEMBLY

According to Ben Porat, who is a former Labor MK in the Israeli Knesset, the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab countries will soon be discussed by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. The issue also will be brought before the United Nations during this session of the Assembly. “I intend to present the subject myself based on my personal experience,” said the Iraqi-born Ben Porat, who immigrated to Israel in 1944 at the age of 21.

The immediate goal of WOJAC here, Ben Porat said, is to establish a public committee on behalf of the organization that will include well known persons–Jews and non-Jews–“who are sensitive to the issue of human rights.” The committee, he added, will be responsible for informing the American public about the existence of Jewish refugees from Arab countries.

WOJAC represents more than 1,750,000 Jews from Arab countries and their descendants living in Israel today and other countries around the world, Ben Porat said. He pointed out, “Of more than 850,000 Jews living in Arab countries in 1948, only a few tens of thousands now remain in Arab lands,” while as a result of the 1948 war 590,000 Arab residents of Israel departed to Arab countries. “Therefore,” Ben Porat said, “what has actually taken place in the Mideast in this generation is a de facto exchange of population of the same order and magnitude.”

MAJOR GOALS OUTLINED

WOJAC’s major goals, Ben Porat said, are:

An international WOJAC convention will be held in Washington next May, Ben Porat said, adding that well known American public figures had already given their consent to participate in the event. WOJAC was established on Nov. 24, 1975 in Paris. It is non-governmental, non-profit and an independent organization.

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