Why Israel’s “refugee day” is a smokescreen to deny Palestinian rights

Israel’s concern for Arab Jews is really a cyncal attempt to undermine Palestinian refugees’ rights.

Abed Rahim Khatib APA images

In the shadow of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s theatrics at the United Nations, armed with his cartoon Iranian bomb, Israeli officials launched a quieter, but equally combative, initiative to extinguish whatever hopes have survived of reviving the peace process.

For the first time in its history, Israel is seeking to equate millions of Palestinians in refugee camps across the Middle East with millions of Israeli citizens descended from Jews who, before Israel’s establishment in 1948, lived in Arab countries.

According to Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, whose parents were originally from Iraq and who has been leading the government campaign, nearly a million Jews fled countries such as Iraq, Egypt, Morocco and Yemen (“Israel demands compensation for Jews who fled Arab countries,” Globes, 23 September 2012).

That figure exceeds the generally accepted number of 750,000 Palestinian refugees, uprooted during the Nakba (catastrophe), the wave of ethnic cleansing that led to Israel’s foundation in 1948.

Transparent goal

Israel’s goal is transparent: it hopes the international community can be persuaded that the suffering of Palestinian refugees is effectively cancelled out by the experiences of “Jewish refugees.” If nothing can be done for Arab Jews all these years later, then Palestinians should expect no restitution either.

Over the past few weeks that has been the message implicit in a social media campaign called “I am a refugee,” which includes YouTube videos in which Jews tell of being terrorized while living in Arab states after 1948. Ayalon has even announced plans for a new day of national commemoration, Jewish Refugee Day.

The Israeli foreign ministry and US Jewish organizations formally launched the initiative recently, staging a conference in New York a few days before the opening sessions of the General Assembly. Israel’s choice of arena — the UN — is not accidental. The campaign is chiefly designed to stifle the move announced by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in his General Assembly speech to begin seeking UN status for Palestine as a non-member state.

After opposition from the US forced the PA to abort its bid for statehood at the UN Security Council last year, Abbas is expected to delay making his new request until November, after the US presidential election campaign to avoid embarrassing President Barack Obama.


Abbas’s move has spurred Israel to take the offensive.

Anyone who doubts that the Israeli government’s concern for Arab Jews is entirely cynical only has to trace the campaign’s provenance. It was considered for the first time in 2009, when Netanyahu was forced — under pressure from Obama — to deliver a speech backing Palestinian statehood. Immediately afterwards, Netanyahu asked the National Security Council, whose role includes assessing strategic threats posed by the Palestinians, to weigh the merits of championing the Arab Jews’ case in international forums.

The NSC’s advice is that Arab Jews, known in Israel as Mizrahim and comprising a small majority of the total Jewish population, should be made a core issue in the peace process. As Israel knows, that creates a permanent stumbling block to an agreement.

The NSC has proposed impossible demands: contrition from all Arab states before a peace deal with the Palestinians can be reached; a decoupling of refugee status and the right of return; and the right of Arab Jews to greater compensation than Palestinian refugees, based on their superior wealth.

Israel is working on other fronts too to undermine the case for Palestinian refugees. Its US lobbyists are demanding that UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees, be dismantled.

Bipartisan pressure is mounting in the US Congress to count as refugees only Palestinians personally displaced from their homes in 1948, stripping millions of descendants of their status. While another — and seemingly contradictory — legislative move would insist on Arab Jews being granted the same refugee status as Palestinians.

The Palestinians are deeply opposed to any linkage between Arab Jews and Palestinian refugees. Not least, they argue, they cannot be held responsible for what took place in other countries. Justice for Palestinian refugees is entirely separate from justice for Arab Jews.

Moreover, many, if not most, Arab Jews left their homelands voluntarily, unlike Palestinians, to begin a new life in Israel. Even where tensions forced Jews to flee, such as in Iraq, it is hard to know who was always behind the ethnic strife. There is strong evidence that Israel’s Mossad spy agency waged false-flag operations in Arab states to fuel the fear and hostility needed to drive Arab Jews towards Israel.

Skewering Zionist myths

Likewise, Israel’s claim that it has a right to represent Arab Jews collectively and lay claim to compensation on their behalf ignores the reality that Israel was compensated handsomely for absorbing Jews, both through massive post-war reparations from countries such as Germany and through billions of dollars in annual handouts from the United States.

But there is a more fundamental reason to be sceptical of this campaign. Classifying Arab Jews as “refugees” skewers the central justification used by Zionists for Israel’s creation: that it is the natural homeland for all Jews, and the only place where they can be safe. As a former Israeli parliamentarian, Ran Hacohen, once observed: “I came at the behest of Zionism, due to the pull that this land exerts, and due to the idea of redemption. Nobody is going to define me as a refugee.”

Netanyahu’s government is making a deeply anti-Zionist argument, one it has been forced to adopt because of its own intransigence in the peace process.

Its refusal to countenance a small Palestinian state in the 1967 borders means the global community feels compelled to reassess the events of 1948. For most Arab Jews, that period is now a closed chapter. For most Palestinian refugees, it is still an open wound.

Jonathan Cook won the 2011 Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net. A version of this article first appeared in The National, Abu Dhabi.




Do you think there is any chance of Arab states offering the return of Jewish "refugees" to their homes, as part of a comprehensive peace agreement, a new Arab Peace Initiative? Such an offer would remove Israel's talking point, and by linking the return of Jewish refugees (who could not, by definition, identify as Zionist) to the return of Palestinian refugees - ensure the end of Apartheid and the return of Palestine to Arab hands.


Arabs conquered " Palestine" about 1400 years ago.My ancestors livedin Egypt (or in Yemen or in Iraq at least 2500 years ago even before the arab conquest of these lands.My family was brutally expelled from Egypt after all their property was confiscated.I do not think that by any objective critteria my right to compensation is smaller than the right of the Arab refugees especially when you consider that most of those refugees left the country at the bequest of the Arab leaders


" especially when you consider that most of those refugees left the country at the bequest of the Arab leaders"

You need to learn history.


re “Israel demands compensation for Jews who fled Arab countries,” is likely not just a deflection from Palestinian refugees but may be another fiscal rort. It is important to read Chapter 3, The Double Shakedown of Norman Finklestein's, The Holocaust Industry, to appreciate the rorting and exploitation of holocaust compensation for which Finkelstein offers the quote- 'the greatest robbery in the history of mankind'.


Yehuda Shenhav has an interesting article on the subject: The Use of the Mizrahi Jews as Pawn Against Palestinian Refugees:
"Calls to define Jews from Arab countries as refugees were silenced in the past by Israeli governments. The change of policy has to do with the relatively new recognition that Israel will not be able to escape its responsabilities for the Nakba (....) such a decision would have forced the state to update all of its history books, forming a new narrative according to which Mizrahi Jews didn't come to Israel due to Zionism but against their will"


There are still Jewish people alive to corroborate the "claims" of Jewish Agency/Mosad campaigns to force the unwilling Jews out of their homelands in Morocco and Iraq etc. Please contact and document before it is too late.

One is Hisqel (Yehezqel) Qojaman in London who knew the agents who firebombed the synagogues in Baghdad. As a prolific writer and the compiler of the greatest Hebrew Arabic dictionary (published by the Israeli Ministry of Defence and used by Syrian Intelligence and Damascus University Hebrew Studies), he is no marginal and doubtful figure. He may still know those agents and a sexton who lost an eye in the bombings, if any are still alive.

The same goes for anti-Jewish riots and synagogue burnings in North Africa; some people now develop consciences and loose tongues, and can provide proof of what they were sent to do.

As to the Jews expelled from Egypt, they were targetted together with the Greek and Italian minorities not as Jews but as foreign elements harbouring spies and subversive agents, in an opportunistic excuse to steal their property in the swing of expropriation and nationalization. Until then native Jews had been in the forefront of loyal nationalism against the British puppet kings in Egypt and Iraq.

The very fact that all this first ever Jewish exodus from Arab homelands took place with Jewish Agency organization AFTER 1947 places it quite plainly within the context of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine and not within any fantasy history of Jews being unwelcome in either Muslim or Arab lands.


This is a very unsatisfactory article on many levels. Each state in the Arab League is different. For Moroc or Libanese Jewish people who left their countries (after the 1967 war and after the attack on Beirut in 1982), there is no issue - legally all Moroc or Libanese people, their children and grandchildren, have the right to live in their country - and many that have gone to live in Canada or France of south america etc they do visit for holidays and there is business and cultural links; In the case of minorities in Egypt that suffered harshly after the 1952 military coup, and the 1956 invasion of Sinai, well the Palestinian authorities should lend 100% support to their efforts for full compensation from the Egyptian government now that Egypt is becoming a democratic society. The situation in Iraq is different - the legal right of a person of Jewish descent from to live in Iraq is a fundamental human right of that person. The fact that no one would want to live in the Iraq of today is a different issue - it doesn't affect the right to compensation for property from the Iraqi government today (now that Iraq is no longer a British-backed tyranny as it was in the early 1950s when the crime against Iraqi Jews was committed ) - the Palestinian authorities are represented as an equal member of the Arab League and the Palestinian authorities should lend 100% support to the rights to not only the option to live in one's homeland regardless of sect, but also to compensation from governments that are becoming accountable under law (Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Iraq and Lebanon come under that category fully).


The problem with this argument is that the Israeli conduct is ongoing. Do they wish carte blanch indefinitely, or do they propose to declare a date after which the arrangement does not apply, so that all further restitutionally qualifying acts by Israel must be compensated for by Israel?

The proposal addresses the narrow interests of Israelis, but is addressed to the global community. This raises the question about whether such a proposal, if feasible, and properly administered, would require us all to go back through recorded history and establish a scheme of compensation for all historical wrongdoing. Then by a process of verification and assessment of scale, bills would be presented all around the globe. In the end it might be determined that those who think they are owed for conduct during a limited period of history actually end up owing much to many.

The Israeli proposal is facile and naive, and has never been previously entertained on this basis. Besides, being based on pure self interest, it is not a fitting solution for the 21st century. It is therefore a churlish and unhelpful suggestion.


Is it consistent with the UN Charter of 1945 and the International Law deriving from it that 750,000 people should be expelled or otherwise obliged by the terror of warfare to leave their homes, environment and livelihoods? Is it it not rather their right to carry on with their lives in their homes and communities in security and prosperity and, in the case of Mandate territory about to enjoy the right of democratic independence, of naming their new country and running it on democratic lines? And if they are expelled or otherwise forced to flee for safety, do not the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and basic, natural decency require that they should be able to return as soon as the UN have - rapidly - restored peace?
The Jewish Agency, being wedded to the idea of land made available only to Jews, was never a "democratic party" in the sense of section B.4. of UNGA Resolution 181. Yet the UN Security Council allowed it to form the basis, and to set the general tone, of every government since of the "State of Israel", in full knowledge that a good half of the initial population were deliberately excluded, not merely from voting, but even from living within the territory conquered by the Zionist forces, for the simple reason that they were not Jews. Zionist governments, however, needed labour to do the work previously done by the non-Jewish Palestinian exiles that they had created and they therefore took steps to bring into Israel as many Arab Jews as possible to take their place.
Do not certain conclusions follow from all this? Such as :
In International Law, no government of Israel and no measure or law decided by it is legitimate (UDHR Articles 9, 15 and 21)?
Even if a big majority of Israelis decided to reinstate the Nakba exiles (of whom some two million Israel actively oppresses now in Gaza and the West Bank), would they be allowed to do so by the Security Council members who gain from the current situation?


In response to Martin O'Brien's "Basic Principles" letter, specifically the final phrase concerning Security Council members who gain from the current situation. Are you referring to weapons' sales and the general principle of Divide and Rule? People are always asking what benefit outsiders could have in keeping the pot boiling while simultaneously mouthing peace initiatives. Certain ideologues claim the simple answer to be a continued colonial slavery: that the entrenched powers within the formerly overt empires are motivated most of all by prevention of unity in the world population that would lead to policies of shared healthy self interest and equitable use of resources. Thus, the need to have Jews imagine they are alien to the Arab world, would be just a variation on the undermining or crushing of Russia, Yugoslavia, Iraq, Congo, Sri Lanka etc. Is this your meaning?


A whole range of areas of activity get involved. Weapons and weapons escalation in terms of numbers, killing power and sheer horror of the manner of killing and maiming are a major element. Furthering domestic companies is another. Instilling fear into one's own population to prepare the way for wars and also repressive measures at home. Making sure that all or most of the media are on the "right" side.
Covert attacks against the latest victim, attacks which never make it to the main media even when reported by a reputable but distant, rare reporter anxious to do his job properly.
If you have made a particular study of all these ways and many more in which major countries - or at least their privileged classes - have sabotaged the UN Charter, you will doubtless know of many more aspects than have occurred to me here.
In the case of the birth and continued existence of Israel, I had not analysed them in the terms you use but can see that your terms may well apply, among others. I understand that Israeli Jews/Zionists are brought up to believe that the land of Israel, perhaps extending well beyond the territories currently occupied, belongs by some divine and historical right to the Jews; and so Jews are not aliens there but are treated as such by the surrounding countries who hate Jews(Zionists), out of sheer racism (rather than because of the cruelties inflicted by the Zionist state and its allies).