The expulsion of Middle Eastern Jews from their traditional homelands in the Arab world has long been one of history’s less recognized tragedies. But thanks to several prominent pieces of legislation, that historical wrong may soon be righted.
The Senate is currently considering a landmark bill that would call attention to the plight of nearly one million Jews who were forced to flee the Arab world in the twentieth century. The bill seeks to bring global visibility to these forgotten refugees, and to lay the foundation for a Mid-East peace based on mutual recognition and a full acknowledgment of history.
In the twentieth century, the ancient and sizable Jewish communities of nearly every Arab country were all but completely destroyed. Repressive and racist Arab regimes, together with large-scale anti-Jewish mob violence, were responsible for terrorizing and uprooting nearly a million indigenous Jews across the region. While this tragic chapter in history has remained relatively obscure—buried by its perpetrators and ignored by the international community— the new legislation seeks to bring this forgotten exodus to the center of the world stage.
In 2007, a number of Senators and Congressmen introduced resolutions into both the House and the Senate that they hoped would balance the unjust and counterproductive tendency to focus on Palestinian refugees while ignoring their Jewish counterparts. House Resolution 185 passed unanimously in April 2008, while Senate Resolution 85 is currently being considered by the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
Senate Resolution 85 has been spearheaded in a bi-partisan effort by Senators Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Norm Coleman (R-MN), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Trent Lott (R-MS) [now retired], Joe Lieberman (D-CT), and Ron Wyden (D-OR). The bill calls attention to the wholesale human rights violations faced by the Jewish minority of the Arab world during the twentieth century, and affirms that the integrity of any comprehensive Mid-East peace agreement is contingent upon "recognition of, and redress for, the uprooting of centuries-old Jewish communities in the Middle East, North Africa, and the Persian Gulf." To that end, the bill instructs representatives of the US in all international forums to ensure that "any explicit reference to the required resolution of the Palestinian refugee issue" is matched by "a similar explicit reference to the resolution of the issue of Jewish, Christian, and other refugees." Those backing the bill are hopeful that a full acknowledgment of history will pave the way towards a just and lasting peace.
Gina Waldman, Chair of JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and No. Africa), said: "Typically, when the issue of Middle Eastern refugees is raised most people think of Palestinians."
Although the Jewish refugees were larger in numbers than the Palestinians, they are never mentioned. The recognition of the Jewish refugees is a very important component of the Middle East Peace process and shows an even-handed approach on behalf of the United States.
"Any denial of our rights would deny the history of the Jews from Arab Countries," said Waldman. "House Resolution 185 passed unanimously because of the overwhelming support we received from Jewish organizations nationwide. We are looking forward to getting the same support for this Senate resolution."