Israel to U.N.: Uprooted Jews Should be Seen as Refugees

Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images/File)

Israel wants the United Nations to recognize as refugees hundreds of thousands of Jews who fled Arab and Muslim countries in the last century, its U.N. envoy said Tuesday.

Ambassador Danny Danon told the U.N. General Assembly that he plans to propose a resolution about what he called “the ‘forgotten’ Jewish refugees” to counter what Israel sees as a one-sided focus on Palestinian refugees.

“We don’t hear the international community speak of them when they discuss the refugees of the conflict, perhaps because it doesn’t serve the Palestinian narrative,” Danon said.

He didn’t detail his planned resolution, except to say that it would “acknowledge the wrong done” to the Jews in question and “make right the injustice that they suffered.”

There was no immediate response from the Palestinian mission to his remarks. Earlier Tuesday, Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour reiterated appeals for humanitarian aid for Palestinian refugees.

Danon’s remarks came as the assembly weighed a draft resolution reiterating a roster of longstanding positions on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. The proposed measure includes calls for continued humanitarian and economic aid to the Palestinians and a stop to Israeli settlement of areas it captured in the 1967 Mideast war — a stance given new resonance by the recent U.S. announcement that it no longer believes the settlements violate international law.

Danon said an estimated 850,000 Jews were forced out of Iraq, Egypt, Morocco, Iran, and many other countries during the 20th century after enduring violence and persecution. Many fled to the new state of Israel after the war surrounding its creation in 1948.

The uprooted Jews were absorbed in Israel, where their descendants now make up about half the country’s Jewish population.

Meanwhile, an estimated 700,000 Palestinians fled or were forced from their homes during the war.

A U.N. agency still exists to assist them and their descendants — all told, about 5.5 million people — in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

The Palestinians and the U.N. see its Relief and Works Agency as a lifeline for impoverished people with no state of their own. International support for it is “an indispensable source of hope and stability until a just solution for the Palestine refugees is realized,” Mansour told the General Assembly on Tuesday.

Israel and the United States, however, have lambasted UNRWA as anti-Israel and badly run. The U.S. cut its funding for the agency from $360 million in 2017 to $60 million in 2018 and nothing this year, calling the agency “irredeemably flawed.”

Recognizing the uprooted Jews as refugees may be largely a symbolic gesture, but it reflects Israel’s determination to highlight what it considers to be years of pro-Palestinian bias at the U.N.

The Israeli request came as the General Assembly considered a resolution reiterating a roster of longstanding positions on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, including the need for “an immediate halt to all settlement activities.”

Hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers live in Yehudah and Shomron and east Yerushalayim, areas that Israel captured in the 1967 war and that Palestinians claim for their future state.

The U.N. and the Palestinians say the settlements are illegal and undermine hopes for the long-discussed two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In 2016, a U.N. Security Council resolution called the settlements “a flagrant violation under international law.”

The U.S. announcement last month upended a four-decade-old State Department legal opinion and subsequent years of carefully calibrated U.S. opposition to settlement construction.

Israeli leaders welcomed the U.S. decision. Palestinians bitterly protested it.