Thursday, November 08, 2007

How committed is Olmert to Jewish refugees?

Delegates at the JJAC meeting in New York earlier this week expressed concern that the Israeli government might not be as committed to the issue of Jewish refugees as the group had hoped. Michal Lando of The Jerusalem Post reports (with thanks: Lily):

"Israeli prime ministers dating back to Menachem Begin have ensured that this issue would be on the international political agenda. In 1993, former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin said in an interview with the Jerusalem Arabic daily Al-Quds that "when there is a committee that deals with the problem of refugees, we will claim that there are two problems - the problem of the Palestinian refugees and the problem of the Jewish refugees from the Arab countries."

"The cabinet reiterated its commitment in 2002 and 2003, in decisions calling for efforts to gather information on Jewish property in Arab countries.

"But several statements in the last few months by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni have JJAC concerned they might not be as committed to the cause as the group had hoped.

"In September, Livni told the Knesset that a Palestinian state was "the integral national solution to the [Palestinian] refugee problem," and she made similar statements in her address to the United Nations General Assembly last month.

"Addressing the Knesset in October, Olmert said he understood "the hardship of the Palestinians and feel a deep empathy to the distress that many of them experienced as a result of our conflict."

"Both leaders neglected to mention the plight of Jewish refugees.

"These comments are of particular concern to JJAC in light of the upcoming peace summit, scheduled to take place at the end of the month.

"It's clear that in any Mideast discussion, Palestinian refugees will be on the table, but our position is [that] there needs to be a recognition that there were two refugee populations," said JJAC Executive Director Stanley Urman.

"The fact that Jewish refugees were absorbed by Israel does not mean their history should be ignored, said Urman, who recently returned from meeting with several government officials in Israel to press the case. Urman said he had been assured that "at the appropriate time, an appropriate statement would be made."

"But until now, Arab countries have largely denied the plight of their Jewish populations.

"The Arab world practices "four No's," said Urman: They claim there was never a significant Jewish population in Arab states, that there was no discrimination, that they left freely without leaving any property behind, and that they have no right to compensation."

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