Jewish National Fund - We Only Have ONE ISRAEL

Justice for Jews From Arab Countries

by Staff Reporter

NEW YORK, NY - At 10 AM Monday morning, September 30, 2002, across from the UN, a determined group of American and European dignitaries stood in unity to announce the formation of JUSTICE FOR JEWS FROM ARAB COUNTRIES (JJAC) - an organization dedicated to bringing justice to the nearly 1 million Jews expelled from Arab countries following Israel's formation in 1948, and insuring that the rights of these Jewish refugees be recognized on the international political and judicial agenda as a matter of law and equity.

Announcing the formation of JJAC, Mortimer B. Zuckerman, Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, one of the sponsors of the JJAC, declared "Today, we are here to bring to the forefront of our consciousness, the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab countries of the Middle East. "In fact," he elaborated, "there were more former Jewish refugees displaced from Arab lands - estimated at 850,000 - than Arab refugees displaced as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict - estimated at 750,000. In light of the world's preoccupation with the plight of the Palestinian refugees, we bring attention to the plight of Jewish refugees."

Justice for Jewish from Arab Countries (JJAC) was formed under the auspices of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, World Jewish Congress (WJC), and the American Sephardi Federation (ASF). Affiliates of JJAC are currently being established in many countries including Canada, Europe, and South America. The primary goals of JJAC are: 1) to educate public opinion on the causes, and plight, of Jews displaced from Arab countries; and 2) to advocate for, and secure rights and redress for, Jews from Arab lands who suffered as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict. Providing a historical context for the claims held by many former Jewish refugees from Arab countries, Lord George Weidenfeld, a member of the House of Lords in the UK and a noted media personality in Europe, detailed how Jews in substantial numbers resided in Arab countries over 1,000 years before the advent of Islam. In 1948, there were nearly 1 million Jews living in Arab countries, whereas today, there remain a few thousand.

"The plight of Jewish refugees in the Middle East is a truth that has been swept under the carpet, or so to speak, under the Persian carpet," said Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke, former Permanent United States Representative to the UN, and an Honorary Chairman for Israel, describing how JJAC is "an important cause for Jews who require that justice be served. Hundreds of thousands of Jews became refugees as a result of the tragedies of the last century.

In his remarks, Ambassador Holbrooke detailed the political and legal bases for helping refugees, including specific language in Resolution 242, adopted by the UN in 1967, which declares that there should be a just settlement of the refugee problem which then-UN Secretary-General U Thant underscored referred to all refugees, Arab or Jews. The Ambassador also read quotes by Presidents Carter and Clinton, both acknowledging the rights of Jewish refugees on equal standing with Arabs.

Evelyn Sommer, President of the American Section of the World Jewish Congress (WJC), spoke as a representative of Jewish communities in over 175 countries; many of which were founded by men, woman and children displaced by Arab expulsions. Ms. Sommer described an international tribunal established nearly a decade ago to bring the issue of Jewish refugees to the forefront. Today, she said, it is vital that the international community recognize the rights of Jews. The Secretary-General of the UN should settle the implications of Resolution 242 by settling the Jewish claims. Also there must be an international campaign to settle rights of Jewish refugees.

Speaking as a Jew and as an Arab whose family was expelled from Iraq because they are Jews - from a country where Jews have lived for over 2,500 years before the rise of Mohammed, Carole Basri gave an emotional account of her family heritage in Iraq, which dates back to her great-grandfather, the Chief Rabbi of Baghdad. Speaking of an uncle who was tortured and hung for speaking out against the persecution of Jews in Iraq, she stated, "Nonetheless, I want to see Iraq. I want my children to see where our family originated from, to know and to be proud of their Jewish and Arab heritage." Ms. Basri, who distributed pictures of her family in Iraq, feels that Jews who originated from these countries can serve as a bridge to peace for this region.

Other speakers included Ambassador Yehuda Lancry, Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations, Mr. Leon Levy, Honorary Lifetime President of the American Sephardi Federation, and Mr. Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Organizations participating in this initiative include the Anti Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress and the Center for Middle East Peace & Economic Cooperation.

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