Jewish refugees from Arab states
Jewish refugees from Arab statesIsrael news screenshot: Foreign Ministry

The Knesset has given initial approval to a proposal that aims to commemorate the Jewish flight from the Arab world following the creation of the state of Israel.

MK Shimon Ohayon (Likud Beytenu) created the proposed law, which would establish an official annual day commemorating Jews’ flight. Hundreds of thousands of Jews fled to Israel after Arab League countries began a campaign of persecution in the 1940s.

Ohayon, who was born in Morocco, explained his motivations for pushing the bill.

“For more than sixty year this topic has not been properly addressed, in Israel or in the world.” The new law is part of an effort to “end the silence that kept this issue off the agenda for years,” he said.

From the late 1940s to the early 1970s an estimated 850,000 Jews living in Arab lands fled to Israel. “That’s twice as many as the number of Palestinians who left their homes in Israel in 1948,” Ohayon notes.

Moreover, Ohayon points out that unlike Palestinian Arabs (along with many Jews living in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem) who were made refugees during the various Arab-Israeli wars, Jewish refugees from Arab countries were the victims of a calculated campaign of ethnic-cleansing.

“These Jews were not involved in any conflict or war; they were targeted solely because they were Jewish,” he added.

Ohayon noted that roughly half of Israel’s Jewish population is descended from Jews born in Arab lands. Their story should be told “and should be known to all Israeli citizens,” he said.

Ohayon has previously urged the United Nations to remember the Jewish refugees from Arab lands, and has called on the Arab League to accept responsibility for driving Jews out of the Arab world. The Likud-Beytenu MK also played a key role in setting up a special Knesset caucus to lobby for the rights of Jewish refugees from Arab countries.

The issue of refugees has been prominent in the ongoing US-brokered talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA). Israel's chief negotiator Tzipi Livni recently faced harsh criticism over accusations she was neglecting the rights of Jewish refugees during talks, despite parallel demands by the Palestinian Authority over Arab refugees.