JERUSALEM (JTA) — Speakers at a conference on Middle Eastern and North African Jewish refugees called for legislative initiatives to support compensation for the refugees.
The conference, which began Sunday night and ends Monday, took place in Jerusalem under the title “Justice for Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries.” It was organized by the World Jewish Congress and Israel’s Foreign Ministry and Senior Citizens’ Ministry.
The conference is part of a drive to raise the profile of the mass exodus of Jews who either fled or were expelled from Arab countries surrounding Israel’s founding in 1948. It also aims to create parity between those refugees and Palestinian refugees from Israel’s War of Independence. A similar conference will take place at the United Nations headquarters on Sept. 21.
At the conference, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that while Israel absorbed Jews from Arab countries, “The Arab world has neglected Arab refugees for decades and has used them as a battering ram against Israel.”
U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) also called for greater recognition of Jewish refugees, as did Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon.
“It is just wrong to address the issue of refugees referring to Palestinians only while there are Jewish refugees that are not being recognized or taken care of,” Nadler said.
One of the conference’s goals is to urge legislative bodies worldwide to pass resolutions recognizing Jewish refugees and requiring that in future Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations, compensation for Jewish refugees for suffering and lost property be discussed whenever the parties negotiate compensation for Palestinian refugees. Resolutions recognizing Jewish refugees are under discussion in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, as well as Israel’s Knesset.
“When there will be negotiations, the government of Israel needs to raise the issue of Jewish refugees,” said Israeli lawmaker Shai Hermesh, chairman of the World Jewish Congress in Israel. Hermesh also called for supporters of the initiative to partner with Jewish parliamentarians worldwide and with Jewish organizations and international allies.
Legislators from Canada, France and Hungary also made statements supporting the initiative, and an Italian parliamentarian had a statement read on her behalf.
A declaration issued at the end of the conference called on U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to "place the issue of Jewish refugees on the agenda of the United Nations and its affiliated forms. We also call on state parliaments around the world to pass legislation recognizing the historic and justice and suffering of the Jews who were expelled, forced out, or who fled Arab countries.”
Referring to world Jewry, the declaration continues: “We call on world Jewry and friends of Israel to keep this issue on the international agenda as an issue of human rights and justice.”