They Say, We Say: What about Jewish refugees from Arab countries?

They Say We Say We know that pro-Israel does not mean blindly supporting policies that are irrational, reckless, and counter-productive. Pro-Israel means supporting policies that are consistent with Israel's interests and promote its survival as a Jewish, democratic state.

You've heard the arguments of the religious and political right-wing, and so have we. They've had their say. Now, we'll have ours.

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What about refugees? (Palestinian and Jewish)

They Say:

The Palestinian refugee issue gets a lot of attention, but an ever bigger issue - that of Jewish refugees from Arab countries - gets largely ignored. This is unjust. These Jews are victims who lost their homes, businesses, and properties as a result of Arab policies linked to the creation of Israel. Indeed, these Jews lost far more property than the Palestinians, and may be more numerous than the Palestinian refugees. Justice requires that any Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement address not only the issue of Palestinian refugees, but also that of Jewish refugees from Arab countries and their claims.

We Say:

Many Jews came to Israel from Arab countries - Jews who emigrated, fled, or were evicted as Israel came into existence and thereafter. Whether the term "refugees" is appropriate to describe them is a questionable; the term traditionally refers to people who have been forced to leave the place they consider their true home to seek refuge in a foreign land, and who, given the opportunity, would return to that home. Jews unquestionably had deep ties in various Arab countries. However, it seems improbable that Jews from Arab countries who now live in Israel consider themselves unwilling transplants or exiles in the Jewish homeland, yearning to return to their true homes in, say, Syria or Yemen.

Nonetheless, Jewish residents of Arab countries unquestionably left behind substantial property when they came to Israel, and they have every right to seek redress. However, resolution of such claims has nothing to do with Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Rather, it is a bilateral issue that must be addressed in negotiations between Israel (or whatever the country of residence of these Jews may be) and the countries these Jews fled.

Unfortunately, it often seems that opponents of a two-state solution want to exploit the issue of Jews from Arab countries in order to complicate and undermine Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts - for example, by claiming that the claims of Jews from Arab countries offset or cancel out Palestinian refugee claims. This cynical exploitation of the loss and suffering of Jews from Arab countries must be rejected. Israel-Palestinian peace efforts - and the promise they hold for ensuring Israel's security and its viability as a Jewish state and a democracy - cannot be held hostage to the resolution of this entirely separate issue. Efforts to do so only dishonor these Jews and tarnish the legitimacy of their claims.