US Government Urged to Protect Heritage of Jewish Refugees From Arab World
A top US Jewish group is urging the Trump administration and Congress to protect the heritage of Jews who were expelled from the Arab world around the time of Israel’s founding seven decades ago.
“We are deeply disturbed by the efforts of several Arab countries to declare that the historical archives, religious items, and communal property of the Jewish communities that lived in these countries should be retained as a part of these countries’ cultural heritage, rather than restored to the communities of those forced to leave,” Arthur Stark, chairman, and Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman and CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said in a statement on Wednesday.
“In what has been proven to be a coordinated governmental campaign of discrimination and expulsion across the Arab world following the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, most Jews left with the clothes on their backs and little more,” they noted. “The value of the personal and communal property left behind and the religious and cultural items accumulated over hundreds of years, is immeasurable.”
They continued, “The United States is involved in negotiations at this time with several of these countries regarding the Memorandums of Understanding concerning their national cultural antiquities. We call upon Congress and the Administration to work together to ensure that the surviving Jewish communities of those that lived in Arab countries be granted their rights to cultural and religious artifacts, in accordance with accepted international law, including the Hague Convention of 1954. To do otherwise would compound the crimes committed against these communities. Synagogues and other communal institutions should be refurbished and protected by the countries in which they are located.”
“We understand the intent to prevent the theft and smuggling of antiques, but no measure should be adopted without consultation and input from those who have the most rightful claim. As there are virtually no Jews left in these countries, the expatriate communities around the world must be able to have a significant role in determining the access, availability, and ultimate location of these items, which represent their age old heritage,” Stark and Hoenlein concluded.
Next week, an event will be held at the UN headquarters in New York to raise awareness in the international community about the nearly-one million Jewish refugees from Arab countries, most of whom went to Israel and were integrated there.