MP raises Jewish refugee issue in Parliament

TORONTO — It’s an issue that few parliamentarians and even fewer members of the public are aware of, but it’s one whose profile Winnipeg Liberal MP Anita Neville hopes to raise.

Anita Neville

Following the 1947 United Nations resolution that led to the creation of Israel, some 850,000 Jews residing in Arab countries “were uprooted and displaced,” Neville told the House of Commons last week. “In 1945, there were around 900,000 Jews living in the Arab world. Today, there are fewer than 8,000. It has been documented that state-sanctioned repression and persecution in Arab countries targeted Jewish populations and led to anti-Jewish pogroms. This is a  story that must be acknowledged and must be repeated.”

Neville, who is running for re-election in Winnipeg South Centre, told The CJN this is “an issue that has not been discussed much in this House or by the current government.” She only learned of it two years ago. However, Canada could play a role in furthering awareness of the plight of Jewish refugees, either through discussions in committee or by calling on the government to raise it in forums in which the issue of Palestinian refugees comes up.

“This is a story that must be acknowledged and must be repeated,” she said.

Stanley Urman, executive director of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, said U.S. Congress passed a resolution during the Bush administration calling on the executive to raise the issue in international diplomatic forums whenever Palestinian refugees are discussed. “To what extent the Americans are now pushing this issue, I’m not really aware of,” he said.

“But, Israel is making it part of their platform,” he continued. “We haven’t seen any recent Israeli government adopt this negotiation stance the way this government has.”

A little more than a year ago, Israel’s Knesset passed a bill aimed at securing compensation for Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran. The bill instructs the government to include the compensation issue in future peace negotiations.

“For the first time, there is seriousness among Israeli officials” about the issue. “The foreign ministry sent memos to ambassadors to make sure the issue is raised in any bilateral discussions,” Urman stated.

Neville said the timing of her statement “related to what is going on on university campuses.” (It came shortly after the conclusion of Israeli Apartheid Week.)

“No one is asking ‘what about Jewish refugees,’” she said. “No one is asking ‘what about the one-sided approach of the United Nations’.

“There’s a lot of attention on Palestinian refugees and no acknowledgement there was a significant number of Jewish refugees who were displaced. There were no reparations for these people,” she said.

“I think there has to be greater awareness of the issue, greater dialogue about it at universities, greater dialogue about it internationally, when there’s disproportionate talk about Palestinian refugees.”