Canadian Parliament hears testimony on Jewish refugees from Arab countries

VANCOUVER, Canada (JTA) — Jewish refugees from Arab countries have been ignored by the Western world, the Canadian Parliament was told in its first-ever hearings on the issue.

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“The expulsion of nearly 1 million Jews from nine Arab countries has had no political consequences,” Gina Waldman, president of JIMENA, a nonprofit group dedicated to the preservation of Mizrahi and Sephardic culture, told the Canadian House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development on Tuesday.

The hearings on Tuesday, as well as May 2, were spearheaded by JIMENA and Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, which worked with the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs to publicize their cause in Canada. They are part of a new push by Jewish groups and the Israeli government to highlight the plight of the refugees in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“The two refugee populations were created as a result of the Arab-Israeli conflict,” David Koschitzky, the chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs Chair, told the Jewish Voice. “Unfortunately, the plight of Jewish refugees has been completely omitted from Canada’s Middle East policy, while that of the Palestinians features prominently.”

According to JIMENA, the goal of the hearings is to urge the Canadian Parliament to pass legislation stating that a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement must deal with all issues relating to refugees, including Jewish refugees. The U.S. Congress passed similar legislation in 2008.

Last fall, Israel’s then-deputy foreign minister, Daniel Ayalon, launched the “I am a Refugee” campaign in a bid to create parity between the struggle of Jewish and Palestinian refugees. Ayalon included publicizing the issue through Israel’s diplomatic missions.

According to information presented at the conference, 856,000 Jews from Arab countries were displaced between 1948 and 1952, compared with 756,000 Palestinians.

Stanley Urman, executive director of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, told the conference that Jewish refugees lost property worth $700 million compared to $450 million by the Palestinians. However, Urman said that since 1950, Palestinians have received $13.7 billion in aid from the United Nations, while Jewish refugees have received only $35,000.

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