No cats in America for Hanan Ashrawi

Now we know: there is no such thing as Jewish refugees from Arab countries. You heard it from no less than Hanan Ashrawi, PLO executive member and spokesperson.

Here is what Ashrawi wrote in an article printed in a number of Arab media outlets:

The claim that Jews who emigrated to Israel, which is supposed to be their homeland, are “refugees” who were uprooted from their homelands is a form of deception and delusion.

Denial is a river in Egypt, but it’s also, sadly, the default position of many Arabs and Muslims when it comes to facts they would rather not acknowledge. The Holocaust? It didn’t happen. Israel? It doesn’t exist — not on Arab maps, anyway. Jewish refugees from Arab countries? They left willingly. Arab and Muslim anti-Semitism? A fabrication. (Arabs and Jews have always lived in harmony, haven’t they?) There are no cats in America“, sang the delusional mice migrants.

What is new about Hanan Ashrawi’s assertion is that she is probably the most senior Palestinian official to have made it in over 60 years.

Her motivation? Alarm, even desperation. The Palestinian monopoly on victimhood is being challenged. Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, is stepping up his campaign to raise awareness of the Jewish refugee issue. He will be holding a conference this coming weekend in Israel ; he will be taking the issue to New York for the next UN General Assembly meeting on September 21.

Dear reader, I won’t waste your time trying to prove to you that Ashrawi’s assertion is a bold-faced lie. Legal experts will point to the fact that the UN Agency for refugees (UNHCR) recognized Jews fleeing Arab countries on two occasions as bona fide refugees. A cursory look at the blog Point of No Return will provide plenty of evidence that Jews interned, persecuted, intimidated, expelled with nothing but the shirts on their backs, and housed in makeshift camps, were indeed refugees. A glance at Ayalon’s new Facebook page “I am a Refugee” will show you documents forbidding Jews from returning to their countries of birth, shipfuls of refugees from Libya and video testimonies from Jews thrown out of Egypt and Iraq.

Hanan Ashrawi (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Hanan Ashrawi (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The irony, however, is that the Palestinians have themselves been outspoken in denouncing the expulsion of Jews from Arab countries.

In January 1951, Arif al-‘Arif, the Palestinian leader who served as Jordan’s district commissioner for Jerusalem, sent the Arab League a telegram after he failed in his efforts to persuade then-Iraqi prime minister Nuri al Said to stop the exodus of Jews from Iraq:

Were every area of Arab land where Jews reside to retain the Jews and their property as a pledge, two problems would easily be solved, that of Palestine generally and that of the refugees in particular.

That’s why the Palestinian National Covenant recommends that Jews be invited back to their countries of birth. Nabil Hga’th, Yasser Arafat’s adviser, called upon the Arab states to legislate a “law of return” for Jews of Arab origin. For all her denying that Jews were refugees, Ashrawi actually restates this demand for a reciprocal ‘right of return’:

We expect the Arab countries to welcome the return of their Jewish citizens in the context of democratic regimes that respect pluralism… From a legal perspective, the first right — before compensation — is the right of return of the refugee to his/her original homeland.

But some Palestinians have even come to see Israel as “the necessary price to be paid for the Arab expulsions.” Isam as-Sirtawi, a one-time terrorist, told HaOlam Hazeh editor Uri Avnery that he gave up terrorism in favor of negotiation with Israel when he realised that Israel was giving refuge to Jews expelled from Arab countries.

In 1975, Sabri Jiryis, director of the Institute of Palestine Studies in Beirut, said that the Arab states were partially responsible for establishing Israel, for they expelled the Jews “in a most ugly fashion, and after confiscating their possessions or taking control thereof at the lowest price:”

Clearly, Israel will raise the question in all serious negotiation that may in time be conducted over the rights of the Palestinians…. Israel’s arguments take approximately the following form: “It is true that we Israelis brought about the exodus of the Arabs from their land in the war of 1948… and that we took control of their property. In return however you Arabs caused the expulsion of a like number of Jews from Arab countries since 1948 until today. Most of these went to Israel after you seized control of their property in one way or another. What happened, therefore, is merely a kind of ‘population and property transfer,’ the consequences of which both sides have to bear. Thus Israel gathers in the Jews from Arab countries and the Arab countries are obliged in turn to settle the Palestinians within their own borders and work towards a solution of the problem.”

A solution is exactly what Danny Ayalon’s campaign is trying to achieve. But it seems further than ever as long as the PLO leadership is intent on deluding itself.

About the Author
Lyn Julius is a journalist and co-founder of Harif, an association of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa in the UK. She is the author of 'Uprooted: How 3,000 years of Jewish Civilisation in the Arab world vanished overnight.' (Vallentine Mitchell)