[Comments are welcome at our Dialogue Corner]
On 28th February 2005, Israel's TV Channel 1 transmitted a programme, in which Prof. Yehuda Shenhav repeated his claims against the demand to recognise the Mizrahi (Oriental) Jews as refugees. To argue the other side, Channel 1 invited Mr. Danny Yatom, Labour MK, who is neither in any relevant official position nor a Jew from an Arab country. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that his appearance was less than satisfactory.
Ms. Sara Rossano, administrator of the World Congress of Jews from Egypt (WCJE) and director of The Union of Jews from Egypt, has sent the following letter to Israel Broadcasting Authority:
"We highly protest against the discrimination and injustice regarding the refugee situation of the Jews from the Arab countries. More than 900,000 Jews were expelled or fled in fear from the Arab countries, with only their shirts on their backs, and have not left from their own free will.
We cannot comprehend nor accept Prof. Yehuda Shenhav - being a Mizrahi Jew himself - during his appearance in Channel 1 on 28/2/2005, speaking against the Refugee status of the Mizrahi Jews, and that Danny Yatom - who is hardly acquainted with this situation, was unable to give him the firm and adequate response needed.
The Jews from Arab Countries, called the "Mizrahi Jews," being forcibly expelled from the Arab countries: Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Libya, etc., should be formally considered and recognised as refugees with their full rights - similar to the rights the Palestinian refugees are demanding for themselves.
The above injustice should be dealt with, advertised, and allowed a fair presentation and exposure on Channel 1.
We recommend that you invite a representative of the WCJE: The World Congress of Jews from Egypt, for a TV interview on Channel 1, to respond to Prof. Shenhav's inaccurate statements.
One might add that Shenhav manufactures ludicrous ideas and distorts well-recorded historical facts. For example, both Shenhav and Yatom spoke of 700,000 Jews that "left" the Arab countries, while objective historical records show that around 900,000 were forcibly expelled or intimidated and driven to flee their homes. In contrast, the Palestinians refugees numbered 700,000 in 1948.
Moreover, the property that the Jews were forced to leave in Arab countries, both private and communal, was much vaster than that which the Palestinians left behind in Israel (Documented by the International Court at The Hague).
These events amounted to practically an "ethnic cleansing" of Jews in Arab countries. Just very few Jews are left there today. Egyptian Jewry, for instance, numbered 100,000 in 1948, but only 38 live there today. The cold facts are that there was no "ethnic cleansing" of Palestinians in Israel, as they currently constitute 20% of Israel's citizens.
Shenhav claims that the Mizrahi Jews cannot be defined as refugees because they were Zionists who are now happy to be in Israel, unlike the Palestinian Arabs who want to return to their old homes. This argument is obviously false. Most Jews did not leave their homes in the Arab world in order to make voluntary Aliya, but were brutally deported and robbed of their property, both private and communal. The fact that they found a new home in Israel (and many other countries) proves nothing except for their positive attitude to life.
Moreover, the Ashkenazi population that was absorbed in Israel around the same time is equally Zionistic and patriotic, yet they received compensation for their suffering and for the property that the Germans stole from them. Why did the world (Israeli governments included) recognise them as refugees and not the Mizrahi Jews?
Shenhav talks from a pro-Palestinian angle, while Yatom and his like consider only short-term interests, but who speaks for peace and justice? Beyond the much-needed solution of all refugee problems in the Middle East, where all refugees must be compensated on a personal and communal basis, we should not leave the subject just at the level of reprisals and financial claims.
There is a need for establishing a Research and Teaching Centre on the Jews from Arab countries, in Israel and other countries, including in Arab sectors. It should focus on the uprooting, ousting and fleeing of the Jews from Arab countries since 1948, which led to the "ethnic cleansing" of the Jews in the Arab world. This is an aspect of the Arab-Israeli conflict that has somewhat been ignored and it needs to be thoroughly researched and taught. Such a constructive initiative could have positive consequences on the promotion and the search for peace between Israel and her neighbours.
Prof. Ada Aharoni, 7/April/2005
Founder and International President of IFLAC