First Published: 2012-10-03

 

Arab Jews vs Palestinians

 

Israel's goal is transparent: it hopes the international community can be persuaded that the suffering of Palestinian refugees is effectively cancelled out by the experiences of "Jewish refugees". If nothing can be done for Arab Jews all these years later, then Palestinians should expect no restitution either, writes Jonathan Cook.

 

Middle East Online

In the shadow of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's theatrics at the United Nations last week, armed with his cartoon Iranian bomb, Israeli officials launched a quieter, but equally combative, initiative to extinguish whatever hopes have survived of reviving the peace process.

For the first time in its history, Israel is seeking to equate millions of Palestinians in refugee camps across the Middle East with millions of Israeli citizens descended from Jews who, before Israel's establishment in 1948, lived in Arab countries.

According to Israel's deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, whose parents were originally from Iraq and who has been leading the government campaign, nearly a million Jews fled countries such as Iraq, Egypt, Morocco and Yemen. That figure exceeds the generally accepted number of 750,000 Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war.

Israel's goal is transparent: it hopes the international community can be persuaded that the suffering of Palestinian refugees is effectively cancelled out by the experiences of "Jewish refugees". If nothing can be done for Arab Jews all these years later, then Palestinians should expect no restitution either.

Over the past few weeks that has been the message implicit in a social media campaign called "I am a refugee", which includes YouTube videos in which Jews tell of being terrorised while living in Arab states after 1948. Ayalon has even announced plans for a new day of national commemoration, Jewish Refugee Day.

This month, the Israeli foreign ministry and US Jewish organisations formally launched the initiative, staging a conference in New York a few days before the opening sessions of the General Assembly.

Israel's choice of arena - the UN - is not accidental. The campaign is chiefly designed to stifle the move announced by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in his General Assembly speech last week to begin seeking UN status for Palestine as a non-member state.

After opposition from the US forced the Palestinians to abort their bid for statehood at the UN Security Council last year, Abbas is expected to delay making his new request until November, after the US presidential election campaign to avoid embarrassing President Barack Obama.

Abbas's move has spurred Israel to take the offensive.

Anyone who doubts that the Israeli government's concern for Arab Jews is entirely cynical only has to trace the campaign's provenance. It was considered for the first time in 2009, when Netanyahu was forced - under pressure from Obama - to deliver a speech backing Palestinian statehood.

Immediately afterwards, Netanyahu asked the National Security Council, whose role includes assessing strategic threats posed by the Palestinians, to weigh the merits of championing the Arab Jews' case in international forums.

The NSC's advice is that Arab Jews, known in Israel as Mizrahim and comprising a small majority of the total Jewish population, should be made a core issue in the peace process. As Israel knows, that creates a permanent stumbling block to an agreement.

The NSC has proposed impossible demands: contrition from all Arab states before a peace deal with the Palestinians can be reached; a decoupling of refugee status and the right of return; and the right of Arab Jews to greater compensation than Palestinian refugees, based on their superior wealth.

Israel is working on other fronts too to undermine the case for Palestinian refugees. Its US lobbyists are demanding that UNRWA, the UN agency for the refugees, be dismantled.

Bipartisan pressure is mounting in the US Congress to count as refugees only Palestinians personally displaced from their homes in 1948, stripping millions of descendants of their status. While another – and seemingly contradictory – legislative move would insist on Arab Jews being granted the same refugee status as Palestinians.

The Palestinians are deeply opposed to any linkage between Arab Jews and Palestinian refugees. Not least, they argue, they cannot be held responsible for what took place in other countries. Justice for Palestinian refugees is entirely separate from justice for Arab Jews.

Moreover, many, if not most, Arab Jews left their homelands voluntarily, unlike Palestinians, to begin a new life in Israel. Even where tensions forced Jews to flee, such as in Iraq, it is hard to know who was always behind the ethnic strife. There is strong evidence that Israel's Mossad spy agency waged false-flag operations in Arab states to fuel the fear and hostility needed to drive Arab Jews towards Israel.

Likewise, Israel's claim that it has a right to represent Arab Jews collectively and lay claim to compensation on their behalf ignores the reality that Israel was compensated handsomely for absorbing Jews, both through massive post-war reparations from countries such as Germany and through billions of dollars in annual handouts from the United States.

But there is a more fundamental reason to be sceptical of this campaign. Classifying Arab Jews as "refugees" skewers the central justification used by Zionists for Israel's creation: that it is the natural homeland for all Jews, and the only place where they can be safe. As a former Israeli MP, Ran Hacohen, once observed: "I came at the behest of Zionism, due to the pull that this land exerts, and due to the idea of redemption. Nobody is going to define me as a refugee."

Netanyahu's government is making a deeply anti-Zionist argument, one it has been forced to adopt because of its own intransigence in the peace process.

Its refusal to countenance a small Palestinian state in the 1967 borders means the global community feels compelled to reassess the events of 1948. For most Arab Jews, that period is now a closed chapter. For most Palestinian refugees, it is still an open wound.

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net.

A version of this article first appeared in The National, Abu Dhabi

 

Britain wants ‘strategic partnership’ with GCC

Egypt’s 'three-year strategy' seeks to revive struggling economy

Syria forces take control of Aleppo Old City

Over 40 people missing after ship sinks off Yemen

Qatar to invest up to $13bn on 'mega projects' in 2017

Libya's key oil region threatened by renewed fighting

Syria rebels call for Aleppo ceasefire

Rebel rockets scar west Aleppo residents

Egypt jails prominent NGO activist

Turkish soldier killed in Syria bomb blast

IS-linked group ousted from Somalia town

Kerry, Lavrov to resume Syria talks Wednesday

Iraqis swarm to remarry after liberation from ‘caliphate’

Four drown, 34 rescued off Morocco coast

Israel to vote on bill to legalise West Bank settlements

Turkish businessmen embrace Erdogan’s plan to boost lira

Battle for Mosul advances deeper into city

Iran to sign deal with Shell in bid to boost output

Israeli missiles strike targets outside Damascus

Hollande condemns Russia’s ‘systematic obstruction’ of Syria ceasefire

Turkey doing 'everything possible' to push Syria talks between Russia, opposition

Russia army colonel dies after Aleppo rebel shelling

Libyan forces hunt remaining jihadists in Sirte

Iraqi jailed in Sweden for war crimes after Facebook post

Regime forces seize five Aleppo districts from rebels

Israeli artist erects golden Netanyahu statue in protest

Russia says US stalling on Aleppo rebel pullout

Saudi sentences 15 to death for being Iranian spies

US defence secretary says Mosul battle could end before Trump

US, NATO stress 'unity' as Trump raises doubts

Greece to extradite three Turkish coup officers

Egypt arrests 25 human organ traffickers

Morocco PM statement on Russia’s ‘destructive’ role in Syria angers Moscow

Israel far right hails bill to 'legalise' settler homes

Merkel says Aleppo situation ‘disgrace’

Iranian president says sanctions renewal proves US still ‘enemy’

Yemen arrests eight IS suspects in Aden

Turkey arrests opposition advisor over alleged Gulen links

Russia says OPEC, non-OPEC countries to meet in Vienna

British PM joins GCC summit for trade talks

Israel government nears deal that could 'legalise' settler homes

Yemen's Hadi would only give way to 'elected' leader

Russia says medic killed, others injured in Aleppo fighting

Greek court rejects extradition of Turkey officers

Sudan court frees 26 protesters