The government gave its backing to a bill by MK Shimon Ohayon (Yisrael Beytenu) to establish an official day for commemorating the fate of Jewish communities who fled Arab lands in the years leading up to and following the establishment of the state.
The Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday approved the bill unanimously, calling for the establishment of “a day for recalling the rights of the many Jewish refugees who were removed, expelled or fled from Arab lands on the eve of the establishment of the state of Israel, and in its wake.”
Between 1947 and 1972, some 856,000 Jews fled ancient communities from Iraq to Morocco for Israel, according to the explanatory section of the bill. That immigration and its descendants constitute roughly half of Israel’s present-day Jewish population.
The bill’s sponsor, Moroccan-born Ohayon, also sent a formal letter Sunday to Arab League Sec.-Gen. Nabil Elaraby calling on the League to acknowledge its role in the dissolution of the Arab world’s Jewish communities.
“This is an important element of any future peace and reconciliation between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East,” Ohayon wrote.
The Arab League, he argued, must “accept historic accountability for the humiliation, the suffering, and the losses incurred by innocent Jewish victims of the Arab world’s declared war against the State of Israel. As a matter of law and equity, the Arab League must assume full responsibility for ensuring rights and redress for Jewish refugees,” Ohayon wrote.
“There are historic processes taking place in the Arab world currently, with more and more people pushing for their rights,” Ohayon noted. “This is an opportune time,” he added, “for the Arab League and its member states to admit to the historic injustice meted out to their Jewish populations.”
The earliest version of the bill set the date for commemoration to November 30, the day after the 1947 vote in the UN General Assembly approving the partition of Mandatory Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab one. “It was on the following day [after the partition vote] that Arab states initiated attacks on the Jewish communities in their countries as part of their effort to prevent the establishment of the Jewish state.”
According to a spokesperson for Yisrael Beytenu, the date will be changed to February 17 in future versions, the date of an Arab League call on member states to impose restrictions on the lives, property and legal status of Jews.
The bill stipulates that a special Knesset session must be devoted to the issue, along with activities in schools and in Israeli embassies and consulates abroad.