Separate groups representing Sephardic Jews around the world have for the first time come together to form the World Sephardic Congress, a united voice to advocate for reparations on behalf of Sephardic Jews forced to flee Arab lands.
Sephardic philanthropist Sami Shamoon, president of the Sephardi Federation of the United Kingdom, was named interim president of the new WSC, which was launched at a gathering last Sunday at the Center for Jewish History in Manhattan.
The new group’s mission is "to assure the survival and perpetuation of our rich Sephardic culture, foster unity of Sephardim throughout the world and play a critical role in strengthening Israel-diaspora relations," said organizers who are based in Greece, Portugal, Spain, Belgium, Brazil, Columbia, Italy, Thailand, as well as Israel and the United States.
One of its top priorities it to bring world attention to the issue of Jews displaced from Arab lands when the State of Israel was created.
Experts estimate that more than 800,000 Jews were forced to leave their native Arab countries, such as Morocco and Iraq, because of rising anti-Jewish sentiments, leaving behind millions of dollars in property, both personal, communal and business. Some left with only the shirts on their back.
"As we speak of ‘Palestinian displacement’ we must remember that the Sephardic Jews who were displaced never received press or attention of any kind," said WSC spokeswoman Sarina Roffe. "Reparations for their losses are a big issue and the WSC is trying to bring world attention to the monetary losses."
Omer Onhon, Counsel General of Turkey, told the gathering last Sunday that the history of Jews in the Ottoman Empire is important to remember.
"Since 1492 the Ottoman Empire was home to the Jews. Our relationship is important due to the anti-Semitism we see today. "
WSC founders include Leon Levy, founder and honorary lifetime president of the American Sephardi Federation, Israel’s former New York Consul General Shmuel Sisso, Rabbi Marc Angel, Jack Avital, and Israeli Rabbi Sam Kassin.