Israel to UN: Jews forced out of Arab, Muslim lands should be seen as refugees

Danny Danon to introduce General Assembly resolution on behalf of 850,000 ‘forgotten’ Jews who fled Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Morocco, to counter one-sided focus on Palestinian refugees

A plane filled with Iraqi Jews photographed on arrival at Lod Airport outside Tel Aviv in early 1951 (Teddy Brauner, GPO)
A plane filled with Iraqi Jews photographed on arrival at Lod Airport outside Tel Aviv in early 1951 (Teddy Brauner, GPO)

UNITED NATIONS — Israel wants the United Nations to recognize as refugees hundreds of thousands of Jews who fled Arab and Muslim countries in the last century, its UN envoy said Tuesday.

Ambassador Danny Danon told the UN General Assembly that he plans to propose a resolution about what he called “the ‘forgotten’ Jewish refugees” to counter what Israel sees as a one-sided focus on Palestinian refugees.

“We don’t hear the international community speak of them when they discuss the refugees of the conflict, perhaps because it doesn’t serve the Palestinian narrative,” Danon said.

He didn’t detail his planned resolution, except to say that it would “acknowledge the wrong done” to the Jews in question and “make right the injustice that they suffered.”

A Yemenite Jewish family travels to a refugee camp set up by the Joint Distribution Committee near Aden. (GPO/Public domain)

There was no immediate response from the Palestinian Authority mission to his remarks. Earlier Tuesday, PA Ambassador Riyad Mansour reiterated appeals for humanitarian aid for Palestinian refugees and their descendants.

Danon’s remarks came as the assembly weighed a draft resolution reiterating a roster of longstanding positions on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. The proposed measure includes calls for continued humanitarian and economic aid to the Palestinians and a stop to Israeli settlement of areas it captured in the 1967 Six Day War — a stance given new resonance by the recent US announcement that it no longer believes the settlements violate international law.

Danon said an estimated 850,000 Jews were forced out of Iraq, Egypt, Morocco, Iran, and many other countries during the 20th century after enduring violence and persecution. Many fled to the new State of Israel after the war surrounding its creation in 1948.

Israel’s Ambassador Danny Danon speaks in the Security Council, at United Nations headquarters, Monday, April 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

The uprooted Jews were absorbed in Israel, where their descendants now make up about half the country’s Jewish population.

Meanwhile, an estimated 700,000 Palestinians fled or were forced from their homes during the war.

A UN agency still exists to assist them and their descendants — all told, about 5.5 million people — in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

The Palestinians and the UN see its Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) as a lifeline for impoverished people with no state of their own. International support for it is “an indispensable source of hope and stability until a just solution for the Palestine refugees is realized,” Mansour told the General Assembly on Tuesday.

Israel and the United States, however, have lambasted UNRWA as anti-Israel and badly run, accusing it of perpetuating the conflict by not resettling refugees in other countries and recognizing all descendants of refugees as refugees, causing their number to swell. The US cut its funding for the agency from $360 million in 2017 to $60 million in 2018 and nothing this year, calling the agency “irredeemably flawed.”

Recognizing the uprooted Jews as refugees may be largely a symbolic gesture, but it reflects Israel’s determination to highlight what it considers to be years of pro-Palestinian bias at the UN.

The Israeli request came as the General Assembly considered a resolution reiterating a roster of longstanding positions on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, including the need for “an immediate halt to all settlement activities.”

Hundreds of thousands of Jews live in West Bank settlements and East Jerusalem neighborhoods built since the 1967 war, areas that Israel captured from Jordan in 1967 and that the Palestinians claim for their future state.

The UN and the Palestinians say the settlements are illegal and undermine hopes for the long-discussed two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In 2016, a UN Security Council resolution called the settlements “a flagrant violation under international law.”

Israel, however, maintains that the West Bank is not an occupied territory but rather disputed land that was captured from Jordan in a defensive war in 1967, after 19 years in which Amman did not annex the territory but also didn’t hand it to the Palestinians.

The US announcement last month upended a four-decade-old State Department legal opinion and subsequent years of carefully calibrated US opposition to settlement construction.

Israeli leaders welcomed the US decision. Palestinians bitterly protested it.

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