November 30th will probably be just another day for most Israelis and Jews around the world. However, according to a law passed by then Member of Knesset Dr. Shimon Ohayon last year, this is now the date of the official day of commemoration for the Jewish refugees from Arab countries.
One of the issues I was able and proud to raise during my time in Government was the issue of the ethnic cleansing of almost a million Jews from the Middle East and North Africa, many of these communities massively predating Islam and the Arab conquest of the region in the Seventh Century, and the appropriation of their assets estimated in today’s prices to be many billions of dollars.
Apart from the great work of organizations like Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa, Justice for Jews from Arab Countries and Harif, I was amazed that the issue had only seldom been raised in any meaningful way on the Israeli or Jewish global agenda.
Growing up in a thriving Jewish community, attending a Jewish school and being involved in the Jewish community and Zionist organizations, I am amazed now, thinking back, how little was taught about the long and illustrious history of the Jewish communities of the Middle East and North Africa and their subsequent expulsion.
How many are taught about the Jewish communities of Algeria, Egypt, Syria and Yemen, to name but a few of many nations now completely without a Jewish presence?
We often raised this issue on the international stage and at the Foreign Ministry under the leadership of then-Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, and even initiated a now annual event at the United Nations solely devoted to the issue of the Jewish refugees from Arab countries with our partners in the World Jewish Congress and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
However, the more we pressed the issue, which by international and Israeli law must be part of any resolution to our conflict, the more I understood that Jews in Israel and abroad are not even aware of it.
Dr. Ohayon created for the first time ever, a Knesset Caucus for the Jewish refugees from Arab Countries, and although the meetings were well attended and frequent, the attendees were mostly the survivors of pogroms in the Arab world and the expellees themselves, and few from the following generations.
To spread greater understanding of the issue abroad, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Bureau for World Jewish Affairs and World Religions, headed by Akiva Tor, we created a traveling exhibition (see below) that would be sent to embassies, consulates, Jewish communities and organizations around the world to print out locally and display at relevant events surrounding the date.
Last year, tens of events were held around the world organized with the assistance of Israel’s embassies and consulates and the local Jewish communities. However, now more than ever, it is vitally important that the issue of the Jews of the Middle East and North Africa is studied and discussed in Jewish schools and educational and communal institutions across the Diaspora.
In 2014, the United Nations General Assembly recommended that 2014 a year of solidarity with the Palestinian people and called on people around the world to recognize their “inalienable rights”.
Perhaps 2016 should become the Jewish year of solidarity with the Jewish refugees from Arab countries and there should be greater recognition, understanding and education of the inalienable rights of these people to rights and redress.
Jewish communities around the world should create a calendar of events surrounding the spreading of greater awareness of this historic injustice to Jewish communities of thee Middle East and North Africa.
The year should be divided up and the traveling exhibition should be displayed every few weeks or month in a different Jewish school, institution or synagogue.
Before we ask the world to recognize and address historic rights, we should inform ourselves about the history of the communities and their cleansing and extinction during the 20th Century.
For many around the world, Jewish history and culture is largely defined by the Jews of Eastern and Central Europe. However, our eastern communities bestowed great scholarship, cultural and economic successes, on many occasions without parallel anywhere in the world. This world, after millennia of existence came to an abrupt end during the Twentieth century.
We should not allow the suffocation and extinction of these historic communities to be erased from the pages of history. We should share their stories, and keep their memory alive, especially their destruction which was largely ignored around the world.
Let’s make 2016 the year where this changes.
Please share the raveling exhibition below with any and every relevant Jewish organization, school and institution who can put it on display.