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Monday, September 22, 2014

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Mideast Jewish refugees to be studied by Ottawa

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Sylvain Abitbol

The House of Commons standing committee on foreign affairs is scheduled to wrap up two days of study this week on the experience of Jewish refugees from Middle Eastern countries.

The committee was to have heard from eight witnesses by the time it concluded its session on May 9, including representatives of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC).

In a news release, CIJA stated it has long called for a change to Canadian foreign policy “so that it correctly reflects the historic plight of Jewish refugees from Arab countries.”

More than 850,000 Jews fled persecution throughout the region after Israel’s creation in 1948, but “Canada’s official Middle East policy neglects this fact, only accounting for Palestinian refugees,” CIJA stated.

South of the border, the U.S. House of Representatives has already taken action on the file. In 2008, the House adopted a resolution that stated in part that a “comprehensive Middle East peace agreement… must address and resolve all outstanding issues relating to the legitimate rights of all refugees, including Jews, Christians and other populations.”

In 2012, bipartisan Congressional lawmakers sponsored a bill to recognize the plight of Jewish refugees from Arab countries, as well as other refugees, such as Christians from the Middle East, North Africa, and the Persian Gulf. The resolution also called on the Obama administration to bring up the issue of Jewish and other refugees when mentioning Palestinian refugees at international forums.

At the time, JJAC vice-president Sylvain Abitbol stated, “Right now Jewish refugees are not on the international agenda. We have been called the forgotten refugees. After 1948, many Arabs from Palestine left their homes and yes they have been refugees. The difference is that we were never called refugees. We adapted to the places where we went, which was not the case for Arab refugees.”

Abitbol, who served as co-president of Canadian Jewish Congress, said, “We’re talking about recognition, about justice.”

CIJA chair David Koschitzky applauded the foreign affairs committee for examining the situation faced by Jews who had resided in Arab lands.

“Two refugee populations were created as a result of the Arab-Israeli conflict  – one Palestinian and the other Jewish. Unfortunately, the plight of Jewish refugees has been completely omitted from Canada’s Middle East policy while that of the Palestinians features prominently. It is essential that policymakers correct this inherent imbalance in Canadian policy. Equitable consideration of Jewish refugees from Arab countries is a necessary component for any just and lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.”

Committee chair Dean Allison did not respond to requests for an interview.

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