WASHINGTON – A first-of-its-kind event focusing on Jewish refugees who fled Arab countries was launched Friday at the United Nations headquarters in New York, despite strong Arab pressure.
After an Arab demand to call off the event was rejected, the Arab League asked the UN Secretariat for permission to hand out press releases at the entrance to the Israeli event , but that request was turned down as well.
The Palestinian UN observer emailed reporters covering the organization on Thursday night, and attached an article published by senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi on the Huffington Post, in which she accuses Israel of cynically using the term "refugee".
The event, initiated by the Foreign Ministry and the Israeli delegation to the UN, is being broadcast live on the UN Web TV channel under the title: "The Untold Story of the Middle East: Justice for Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries."
It is attended by senior UN Secretariat officials, as well as Western ambassadors.
Deputy Foreign Minister Ayalon at UN (Photo: Shahar Azran)
Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon, who led the battle to recognize Jewish refugees, said that it was a historical event.
"Between the walls of the UN we are starting to bring justice to the Jewish refugees who were tortured, persecuted and driven away, and whose rights were revoked," he said.
Ayalon stressed that Security Council Resolution 242 discusses justice for refugees in the Middle East, thanks to the fact that then-American Ambassador to the UN Arthur Goldberg rejected a Soviet demand to include the phrase "Arab refugees" in the wording.
"We are 64 years late, but it's never too late to bring justice and discuss the historic facts," he added.
Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, said: “Israel’s detractors have spent decades infusing the courts of international public opinion with a one-sided history of the Middle East refugee problem. This will not bring justice or closure to this painful conflict.
"It is now time to set the historical, diplomatic, and legal record straight. Lasting peace can only be built on historical facts - both the issues of the Jewish refugees and the Palestinian refugees must be addressed.”
“It is time for the international community to recognize that with the birth of the Jewish state in 1948, Jews in Arab countries were persecuted, assaulted and forcibly exiled from their homes, personal and communal property confiscated and stolen.
"The world has long recognized the Palestinian refugee problem. After 60 years, the United Nations should finally recognize the 850,000 Jewish refugees who suffered during those times.
"The World Jewish Congress calls upon the Secretary General of the United Nations and all world leaders to acknowledge the truth, and place the plight of the Jewish refugees of Arab countries on the agenda together with the rights of all the refugees. Only addressing the historical facts can help bring about peace," said Lauder.
The conference is also attended by Jewish refugees from Arab countries, including Rabbi Eli Abadi who was born in Beirut, Edwin Shuker of Baghdad, and journalist Shalom Yerushalmi, whose parents were forced to leave their property in Damascus and flee with nothing.
Other participants include Law Professors Irwin Cotler and Alan Dershowitz, who discussed the legal rights of Jews who escaped from Arab countries.
Ynetnews contributed to this report