We are greatly disturbed that Jewish Refugee Day – the Israeli national holiday created to remember the 860,000 Mizrahi Jewsexpelled from Arab lands beginning in 1948 – was not only forgotten by the entire local Jewish community, but that, in a painfully ironic contradiction, a number of local congregations and two Jewish agencies actively working to resettle non-Jewish refugees from an Arab land were among those failing to commemorate the event.
The Knesset designated Nov. 30 as Jewish Refugee Day three years ago, to mark the forced exodus of Jews from Arab and Muslim countries that began around the time of the founding of the State of Israel. Since then, the Jewish population in Arab countries has declined 99 percent, to less than 8,000, with 600,000 Mizrahim becoming Israeli citizens.
Jews had thrived across the Middle East and North Africa since biblical times. In this post-Holocaust ethnic cleansing, we suffered physical threats, state-sanctioned legislation and pogroms, as well as plenary, uncompensated loss of property.
More Mizrahim immigrated to Israel after 1948 than Palestinians were displaced by the War of Independence. Today, Mizrahim comprise slightly more than half of Israel's population, which is one reason why the Ashkenazi-dominated government chose to commemorate them. Another reason is to use the confiscated property issue in negotiations toward a Palestinian peace settlement.
Perhaps it is U.S. Jewry's overwhelmingly Ashkenazi bias that makes us overlook Jewish Refugee Day. We have no trouble marking Yom HaShoah or Israeli Independence and Memorial Days, which commemorate, primarily, the Ashkenazi experience. For a community that claims to be inclusive and egalitarian, that in itself is shameful.
The current effort by HIAS, Jewish Family Service of MetroWest and several congregations to resettle a dozen Syrian refugee families here, recounted on page one of this week's newspaper, illustrates this bias.
We take no issue with the good intentions of Jews who want to help refugees. However, we cannot endorse Jewish groups resettling Syrian refugees when it occurs simultaneously with those groups blatantly disregarding the experience of 40,000 Mizrahim who unlike these Syrians who fled, were intentionally driven out of Syria