The campaign to win compensation for hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees forced to flee Arab countries after 1948 got a boost this week when Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) said he plans to introduce a resolution in the House of Representatives next month demanding justice for the refugees.
Fresh from a four-day trip to Israel, the veteran New Jersey lawmaker (whose district includes the heavily Sephardic community of Deal) told an audience of about 60 people at the Jewish Community Center here Tuesday night that Congress should ensure that any Middle East peace settlement include recognition of the little-known plight of the estimated 900,000 Jewish refugees, as well as Palestinian refugees.
At a forum sponsored by the World Jewish Congress, Pallone said Congress should support efforts that are supposed to be under way by several Jewish organizations and Israel to document the estimated multibillion-dollar community and personal property losses of Jews driven by persecution to leave such Arab countries as Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Libya and Morocco,
Pallone said that since taking up the issue about six months ago, Sephardic constituents have approached him with horror stories about how their families were persecuted, tortured and killed before they fled their native countries, which had rich Jewish histories for thousands of years.
"They were terrorized," Pallone said. "Things that happened to them need to be told."
He likened the situation to Holocaust survivors who suffered silently for years before being able to tell their stories.
WJC Secretary General Avi Becker called the phenomenon "belated remembrance syndrome."
Becker said the gathering marked the 12th WJC conference in recent months around the world, in a campaign to publicize the issue among Jews and political leaders.
"This is the time to set the record straight about the ethnic cleansing of the Jews communities from Arab lands," Becker said.
He blamed the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which has a $311 million budget, for perpetuating the Palestinian refugee problem for 50 years, while the UN completely ignored the Arab-Jewish refugee problem resulting from the same event: the creation of the State of Israel and subsequent Arab attack.
Several local residents at the forum gave brief descriptions about their personal family tragedies in Syria, Iraq and Egypt.
Pallone said while in Israel he received the blessing for his efforts from newly elected Israeli Sephardic Rabbi Shlomo Amar.