Israel is determined to seek justice for Jewish refugees from Arab countries, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday in video remarks to the international Justice for Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries conference that opened this week at the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem.
"The Arab world has neglected Palestinian refugees and has used them as a tool to defame Israel, while Israel, which was then a small country, was able to absorb Jewish refugees from Arab countries and turn them into productive citizens," Netanyahu said.
The goal of the conference is to raise awareness in Israel and throughout the world about the stories of Jewish refugees from Arab countries, by means of personal testimony from the refugees themselves and political action on the international level to promote legal recognition of the rights of Jewish refugees.
The conference is being hosted by the World Jewish Congress, Israel's Foreign Ministry and the Ministry for Senior Citizens.
The Ministry for Senior Citizens recently launched a project to comprehensively document the stories of Jewish refugees from Arab countries. To do this, the ministry is collecting evidence of the property that belonged to Jewish refugees who were forced to leave their countries of origin due to government persecution and hostility. The goal is to establish an international fund, in accordance with the Clinton peace parameters, with the aim of creating a thorough discussion on compensation for Jewish refugees, similar to the compensation being demanded by Palestinian refugees.
Conference organizers noted that there were 856,000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries. Around 600,000 immigrated to Israel while another 200,000 found refuge in the U.S., Canada and Europe. Descendants of Jewish refugees from Arab countries today constitute around half of the Israeli population.
"The main reason that the effort to obtain justice for Jewish refugees will be managed successfully is the unity of opinion on the issue," said World Jewish Congress Secretary General Dan Diker. "This is not an Israeli issue, it is a Jewish issue. For the first time, there is a government in Israel that is working hand-in-hand with Jewish organizations to promote the rights of refugees."
"Until now, Israeli governments have always said that it was not the right time to raise the matter," Diker said. "No more. Finally, there is a government that says 'If not now, when?'"
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said that any true peace process with the Palestinians must be based on historical facts.
"The Israeli government has decided to put its full weight behind this issue, from which there will be political implications, in particular regarding peace negotiations," Ayalon said. "This is not an attempt to create barriers to negotiations. A genuine peace process needs to be based on historical truth in order to survive. There are Arab refugees and Jewish refugees."