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Wojac Conference Hears of Plight of Jews Forced to Leave Arab Lands

Any negotiations between Israel and the Arab countries must include the issue of the some 800,000 Jews who were forced to leave the Arab countries after Israel was established, an Israeli diplomat stressed Tuesday.

“Their immense suffering and deprivation, their sacrifices and tragedies, must be at the center of negotiations,” Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, told the third international conference of the World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries (WOJAC).

Some 300 Jewish leaders from North and South America, Europe and Israel are attending the three-day conference which began Monday night at the Omni Shoreham Hotel here. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations is coordinator of the conference.

WOJAC was founded in 1975 to press the claims of Jews who were forced to leave Arab countries and whose plight had not received the attention given to Arabs who left at the establishment of the Jewish state, chiefly at the urging of the Arab countries.

Netanyahu’s point was also made by Israeli President Chaim Herzog in a telegram to the opening session of the conference, read by Moshe Arad, Israel’s ambassador to Washington.

TWO REFUGEE PROBLEMS

“The world does not realize that two major refugee problems exist in the Middle East at the same time,” Herzog said. “One of them has received the widest possible exposure in the public consciousness, while the other has been ignored.

“An understanding of the total picture…is vital as we move slowly, but surely, along the road toward peace in the Middle East.”

Netanyahu said Israel has made a “mistake” in not stressing “the forced exodus of Jews from Arab countries” as a “top priority in our foreign policy.” He said this has allowed the belief to exist that “we are the dispossessor, when in fact we are the dispossessed.”

The majority of Israelis are not Western immigrants, but Jews born in the Middle East, Netanyahu said.

He said the reason for the misconception is that Israel did not put the refugees in camps, as the Arab countries did. “We didn’t let them fester and rot, we didn’t use them as breeding grounds for terrorists.” The Jews who came to Israel were integrated and are “proud citizens of Israel.”

A CALL FOR COMPENSATION

He said more Jews were forced to leave Arab countries than Arabs left Israel and they left behind five times the property the Arabs did. He said these Jews should receive compensation from the Arab countries.

Professor Ya’akov Meron of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem told the conference that when the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 242 after the 1967 Six-Day War, it rejected a Soviet-Arab demand that the Palestinian Arabs be specifically mentioned. Instead, the Security Council made it clear it wanted “all of the refugees of the Arab-Israel conflict” to be justly considered “Jewish refugees from Arab lands, and Arabs who had left Israel,” Meron said.

There must be “justice for the forgotten million — the Jews of the Arab world who left their native lands a generation ago in flight from persecution, physical abuse, imprisonment and the confiscation of their property,” said Leon Tamman of London, chairman of the WOJAC Presidium.

He said that as a result of this forced exodus there are only about 25,000 Jews left in the Arab world and, except for Morocco, these countries bar Jews from emigrating and do not allow those who fled to visit “the shrines and spiritual treasures they left behind.”

The purpose of the conference is to make these facts known, said Kenneth Bialkin, the conference chairman.

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