The Americans like to say, "Time is money." In other words, one shouldn't disregard the present – because it's worth a lot. I argue that for us Jews, the key sentence is "don't disregard the past," not because it's worth money, but because it's the foundation of our Jewish and Zionist identity.
The Talmud says that during the days of Alexander III of Macedon, the Egyptians demanded that the Jews pay damages for the gold and silverware borrowed from them before the people of Israel left Egypt, which were never returned.
In response, a wise Jewish man argued that the Egyptian demand for historic compensation should be answered with a demand that the Egyptians pay the Jews damages for enslaving them for hundreds of years without giving them anything in return. The story ends with the Caesar's ruling, which gave the Egyptians three days to respond to the wise Jew's claim. They decided, for their own benefit, to withdraw their claim.
Surprisingly, history appears to be repeating itself in our time. The Palestinians often complain to the world's nations about the damage they suffered during the State's establishment, when they say 650,000 people were forced to flee their homes, and they are therefore demanding compensation.
What they are "forgetting," and what we should remember and remind ourselves, is that immediately after the UN resolution on the establishment of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel on November 29, 1947, Arab states – led by the Arab League – began imposing sanctions on the Jewish communities in their territories, accusing them of cooperating with the Zionist enterprise in Israel.
In some of the countries, the Arabs rioted against the Jews and plundered their property, and in other places the Jews lost their workplaces and sources of income. As a result, the Jews were forced to flee the Arab states in great poverty and leave all their property behind.
In the 20 years after the State's establishment, 850,000 Jews immigrated to Israel from Arab countries without any property and without any respect, and so glorious 2,000-year-old communities were destroyed at once.
It is a tradition among the Jewish people that one must not forget. We do not forget the nations which rendered us good, and we do not forget those which hurt us. The Jewish people do not forget the injustices, even when they were carried out thousands of years ago.
We remember Amalek's attack on us at our time of weakness in the desert very well, as well as the ingratitude of Ammon and Moab who did not help the people of Israel wandering the arid desert by handing out food and water. We haven't forgotten the deeds of the Nazis either, who murdered one-third of our people in the past generation. A nation which does not remember its past, and fails to draw the necessary lessons from it, will be unsuccessful in dealing with what the future holds.
In the Knesset' previous term, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman
worked to advance the commemoration of the suffering of Jews from Arab states, suffering which eventually led to their immigration to Israel. In one of the conferences held on this issue, former US President Bill Clinton suggested that the future fund for compensating Palestinian refugees would also compensate the Jews forced to leave Arab states.
It appears that today too, as in the days of Alexander the Great, bringing the past of Jewish refugees from Arab countries to the surface will at once cancel the worthiness of Arab states' current claims to receive historic compensation for the damage caused to the Palestinian refugees.
In the current term I am working to further advance the issue by submitting a bill setting a day to commemorate the Jewish expulsions from Arab states. This bill was born during conferences in Israel and worldwide, where I heard many Jews from Arab states tell the stories of their banishment from their countries of origin.
But the stories of Jews from Arab states were shared even earlier by the organizations representing the people who came from those countries, including Egypt,
Iraq, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Syria,
Morocco and Yemen. They felt that the Zionist ethos is dedicated almost entirely to the story of Europe's Jews, skipping the painful history of those who came from Arab countries.
Every Israeli child learns about the Kishinev pogrom, but has anyone heard about the Farhud in Iraq? Everyone remembers the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising,
but hardly anyone knows about the Zionist underground activity in Arab states. The education system teaches about the first exodus from Europe, while the second exodus – the one from Islamic countries – is missing from textbooks.
The exclusion of this story from the Zionist ethos has created and is still creating alienation among Jews from Arab states towards the Israeli society. It seems as though immigrants from some countries are the original Zionists, while the others only joined them later on.
The Torah commands, "Ask your father, he will tell you about it; ask your elders, they will give you the details" (Deuteronomy 32, 7), as well as "Remember this day which is the day that you came out of Egypt, out of the place you were slaves" (Exodus 13, 3). The historic collective memory builds an identity, team spirit and commitment to society.
This trend has recently been joined by the Ministry for Senior Citizens, headed by my friend, Minister Uri Orbach, which is leading the "And You Shall Tell Your Son" project, encouraging Jews from Arab states to share their personal story for the sake of the next generations.
It wasn’t easy to convince the ministerial committee to support a law setting a memorial day for the Jewish expulsion from Arab states, but it eventually overcame that hurdle and the preliminary reading.
I hope it enters the State of Israel's book of laws shortly, both for the sake of our rights in the eyes of the world, for the sake of building our national identity, and for the sake of our needs, as a society, to preserve the Zionist story as it is, with all its different components and colors.