Ever since Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and I entered the Foreign Ministry over three years ago, we were committed to a foreign policy and public diplomacy based on Jewish rights and justice. While our opponents never missed an opportunity to talk about rights and justice, we talked about peace and compromise. While these issues are important, they have not helped us on the field of hasbara and public diplomacy, and above all, they should not come at the expense of talking about Jewish history, Jewish rights and Jewish justice.
No issue goes to the heart of this inconsistency more than that of the Jewish refugees from Arab lands. For too long their story was unknown, their history and suffering unacknowledged and their rights ignored. We can see that this truth has a great power by the extreme and babbling responses by Palestinian officials, who have no answer to this issue except to say that it simply doesn’t exist.
However, the facts are well known to many in this room whose first-hand experience belie the Palestinian attempts at historic revisionism.
In 1947, after centuries of repression and sporadic violence, the situation of the almost one million Jews living in Arab countries became untenable when the Arab League released a draft law calling on its member states to consider the Jews in their countries as members of an enemy state and to freeze their bank accounts. These monies were then to be used to fight Jews in Mandatory Palestine and then the State of Israel.
This law was prepared, and endorsed, by the Political Committee of the Arab League with the agreement of each member state.
Of course, this was only the minimum each member state was supposed to do. Many states, went above and beyond, sometimes appropriating all of the assets of Jews, revoking their citizenship and forcing them, often through violence, from their homes. State-sponsored pogroms and massacres, expulsions and the disappearance of Jews became common throughout the region.
Thus ended large scale Jewish communities in the Middle East and North Africa which predated the Muslim conquest and subsequent occupation of the region by as much as a millennium.
In recent days I created a public diplomacy campaign titled "I am a Refugee" where I called on those who suffered this fate, and their descendants, to place their story online to set the record straight. Each of these stories, and many more, are important, not just for the sake of memory, but to stand in opposition to the Arab narrative which has been allowed to stand uncontested for too long.
The fact is the Jews driven out of Arab countries have rights and justice already established by the international community on their side.
United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, which is the basis for all agreements and peace discussions with our neighbours in the region, speaks of "a just settlement of the refugee problem," not "the Palestinian or Arab refugee problem." The history of the resolution demonstrates that it was intentional and reflected recognition that the Arab-Israeli conflict created two refugee populations, not one.
While some tried to restrict the term refugees to just the Arab side, former U.S. Justice Arthur J. Goldberg, the American Ambassador to the UN who played a key role in the ultimate language adopted, pointed out that the omission was intentional.
Over the years other important actors in the international arena have also referenced the situation of the Jewish refugees from Arab countries, including United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees officials, and just more than a decade ago, by former U.S. President Bill Clinton.
During the discussions at Camp David in 2000, President Clinton suggested an international fund for both sets of refugees, both Arabs and Jews. This is in addition to a US Congress resolution of 2008, Congressman promoted and sponsored by Congressman Jerry Nadler, who is with us today.
Other legislation is in the works in Canada, thanks to another good friend and former Canadian Justice Minister, Irwin Cotler who is also here with us. We also being updated on moves in other parliaments around the world, and in this regard I would like again to acknowledge the participation in this conference of French MP Avi Assouly and Hungarian MP Pal Steiner.
During the last few years at the Foreign Ministry we have firmly and formally placed the issue of the Jewish refugees from Arab countries on the national and international agenda.
Today, with the assistance of our partners, Deputy Minister for Pensioners Affairs Leah Ness, the World Jewish Congress, represented by Secretary General Dan Diker and the organizations representing Jews from the Arab world, we are launching a new phase in our campaign.
From today we are actively moving forward on an active diplomatic and political agenda.
We are instructing our embassies and consulates around the world to bring up this issue with the governments and parliaments in their host states in any relevant discussions or meetings. We are liaising with parliamentarians from around the world who can bring forward a resolution on this issue.
In addition, later this month I will be travelling to New York, where we will hold a conference at the United Nations in order to specifically call on the United Nations Secretary General to place the issue of Jewish refugees firmly on the international agenda.
Finally, in Israel there still remains too little understanding and knowledge of this issue. To this end, I have proposed an annual day on the national calendar to remember the Jewish communities in Arab lands and their dismemberment. This proposal has been approved in principle and I hope that it will be approved by the government soon.
All of this will be bolstered with public diplomacy and awareness efforts to place the issue where it belongs, on the public agenda.
The Jewish refugees from Arab lands deserve their story being told, their history known, their rights recognized and the justice of their cause accepted.
Jews also have justice and rights.