Today, Representatives Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Howard Berman (D-CA), Ted Poe (R-TX), Joe Crowley (D-NY), and Bob Turner (R-NY) introduced bipartisan legislation to ensure recognition of the plight of the nearly one million Jewish refugees who were displaced from countries in the Middle East, North Africa and the Persian Gulf as a result of the Arab-Israeli conflict; it would also recognize Christian and other displaced populations. The bill would strongly encourage the President and representatives of the administration, when speaking on the issue of Middle Eastern refugees at international forums, to pair any explicit reference to Palestinian refugees with similar reference to Jewish and other refugee populations.
“The suffering and terrible injustices visited upon Jewish refugees in the Middle East needs to be acknowledged,” said Nadler. “It is simply wrong to recognize the rights of Palestinian refugees without recognizing the rights of nearly one million Jewish refugees, who suffered terrible outrages at the hands of their former compatriots. This no-nonsense legislation would help secure equal treatment of Palestinian and Jewish refugees.”
“Jewish refugees who were forced to flee Arab countries and Iran endured unimaginable hardships,” said Ros-Lehtinen. “Their plight has been ignored by the United Nations, other international bodies, and many responsible nations. Any comprehensive Middle East peace agreement can only be credible and enduring if it resolves all issues related to the rights of all refugees in the Arab world and Iran, including Jews, Christians and others.”
“The double standard of acknowledging Palestinian refugees, while ignoring Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa, is unacceptable,” said Berman. “In any discussion of a peace settlement, Jewish refugees deserve consideration and compensation equal to that of Palestinian refugees. Without such parity, there can be no meaningful justice and thus no legitimate peace.”
“Every refugee, regardless of ethnicity, is worthy of human dignity and respect,” said Poe. “The United States should not be playing favorites by advocating for one group of refugees over another. It is time that we publicly recognize the struggle of all displaced groups, including the Jewish and Christian refugees. They are by definition a people that do not have a voice and need our help.”
“It is essential that this important piece of history become a part of the discussion and I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing this legislation,” said Crowley. “This legislation will shed light on an issue that has been swept under the rug for far too long.”
“The plight of Jewish refugees in the Middle East is often inexplicably and unconscionably overlooked,” said Turner. “The nearly one million exiled Jewish refugees in the Middle East suffered at the hands of their compatriots and their hardships cannot continue to go unrecognized. This bill will work correct this injustice and provide equal recognition of rights for Jewish refugees.”
“It is noteworthy that this bi-partisan bill transcends partisan politics – even in the run up to the election” said Rabbi Elie Abadie and Sylvain Abitbol, Vice Presidents of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC). “Since 2005, JJAC has been urging the US Congress to recognize that Palestinian Arabs were not the only Middle East refugees. We commend Congressman Nadler for his longstanding commitment and leadership.”
“B’nai B’rith International welcomes the introduction of this important legislation,” said Eric Fusfield, the organization’s director of legislative affairs. “This bipartisan bill is an important step toward righting a historical wrong. The international community’s neglect of the plight of Jewish refugees from Arab and Muslim countries in the Middle East is a shameful legacy that must be reversed. B’nai B’rith commends the bipartisan leadership of Representatives Nadler, Ros-Lehtinen, Berman, Poe, Crowley, and Turner. These original co-sponsors have provided a crucial platform for the concerns of Middle East refugee groups that have suffered greatly. We call on the House and Senate to act swiftly and overwhelmingly in passing the legislation.”
For more than 2,500 years, the large swath of territory extending from North Africa to Central Asia has been home to thousands of vibrant Jewish communities. Following the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, however, the status of Jews in Arab and Muslim countries changed dramatically. When virtually all of Israel’s neighbors declared war on the nascent Jewish state, many Jews in these countries were forcibly expelled from their homes. Jews were either uprooted from their countries of birth or became subjugated political hostages in the Arab world’s conflict with Israel. In all, approximately 850,000 Jews left their homes. In virtually all cases, individual and communal properties were seized and/or confiscated by governments without any compensation provided.
According to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, the international definition of a refugee clearly applies to Jews who were expelled, or fled, from Middle Eastern countries:
A refugee is a person who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country...”
Yet, 172 of the 1088 United Nations resolutions on the Middle East conflict refer directly and exclusively to the plight of the Palestinian refugees. None contains any reference to the plight of the hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees. But, on two separate occasions, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) ruled that Jews fleeing from Arab countries were ‘bona fide’ refugees who “fall within the mandate of [the UNHCR] office.”
In 2008, the House recognized the importance of the issue of refugees from Arab countries by passing H. Res. 185. This resolution urged the international community to consider all refugees equally when discussing Middle East refugee matters. It also urged the President to instruct our representatives to the United Nations and other international bodies to make certain that references to the Palestinian refugees are matched by similar references to Jewish, Christian, and other refugees displaced from Middle Eastern countries.
Nadler’s legislation builds on this action by recapitulating the key facts concerning the hundreds of thousands of refugees forced from Arab countries. It would also require a periodic report from the President which would explain how the Executive Branch has carried out the mandate of H. Res. 185, detail any assistance the United States has provided on the issue of Jewish refugees, and provide recommendations on how to ensure equal consideration of all refugees in any final Middle East peace deal.