Advocacy for Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries


Jews have been part of Middle Eastern culture and life for nearly 4,000 years, since the beginnings of Judaism.  Indigenous Jewish communities have lived continuously in this region both inside and outside the Land of Israel.  These Jewish communities existed in relatively stable and substantial numbers until the middle of the twentieth century.  In 1948 an estimated 940,000 Jews called the Arab world home; today only an estimated 8-12,000 Jews remain in the entire Arab world in ever dwindling numbers.  


After the advent of Islam in the seventh century CE, Jewish communities that fell under Muslim governance were granted the status of “dhimmi.”  Jews and Christians under this status were officially “protected” from death and forced conversion so long as they adhered to a strict set of laws known as the Code of Umar.  At times this protection was withdrawn and Jewish communities faced severe persecution.   Overall, however, Jews were permitted limited religious, educational, professional, and business opportunities under Islamic rule. 


With the rise of Arab nationalism in the twentieth century, the status of Jews in Arab countries changed, often for the worse.   This change became acute immediately before and after the Arab states’ attack on the new State of Israel in 1948.  By way of example, in Syria, as a result of anti-Jewish pogroms that erupted in Aleppo in 1947, 7,000 of the town’s 10,000 Jews fled in terror.  In Iraq, Jews were systematically deprived of their livelihoods, and ‘Zionism’ became a capital crime.  More than 70 Jews were killed by bombs in the Jewish Quarter of Cairo. After the UN General Assembly resolution on the Partition Plan, Muslim rioters engaged in a bloody pogrom in Aden and Yemen, which killed 82 Jews.  Later, after the French left Algeria, the authorities issued a variety of anti-Jewish decrees prompting nearly all of the 160,000 Jews to flee the country.  


As a result of repressive policies enacted by Arab governments, fully 99% of the Arab world’s Jewish inhabitants felt compelled to flee or were expelled from ten Arab countries.  In some cases, such as Syria, whole communities were held as political hostages.  In virtually all cases, as Jews left their country of origin, individual and communal properties were confiscated without compensation.  Those who remained were made into virtual political hostages by some Arab governments.    


About two-thirds of the over 900,000 Jews displaced from Arab countries resettled in Israel where they were granted full citizenship, and where today they and their descendants comprise just over fifty percent of the total Israeli Jewish population and increasingly occupy positions of power in Israeli society.  The other one-third of these refugees resettled in other countries.   


The United Nations estimated the number of Palestinian refugees from this time to be approximately 750,000.  In contrast to Israel’s acceptance of Jewish refugees, Arab countries – with the exception of Jordan – denied citizenship to Palestinian Arabs and forced them to live in refugee camps.


Overwhelmingly most of the Jewish refugees from Arab countries do not seek to return to their former homelands where they were persecuted.  As with most other displaced populations in modern times they have moved on with their lives, integrating fully in their new homes. 


Since 1947, over 681 UN General Assembly resolutions have been passed on the Arab-Israeli conflict.  Of these, 101 exclusively deal with Palestinian refugees.  Not one UN resolution has been passed that deals exclusively with the Jewish refugees from Arab states, and their just rights.


As a matter of law and equity, the international community must recognize, once and for all time, that two refugee populations were created as a result of the years of turmoil in the Middle East. Redress for the discrimination, persecution and mass violations of the human rights of Jews displaced from Arab countries can take a myriad of forms and must be ultimately determined by the parties directly involved. 


A recognition of the past is essential to the integrity of the Middle East peace process.  Rejection of memory is a rejection of peace.  Justice in the Middle East requires acknowledgement of the historical narrative and rights of Jews uprooted from Arab countries.





The world must know about the plight of Jews from Arab states as former refugees. The Jews from Arab states were victims of mass violations of human rights, and justice calls for their story to be told, and their rights addressed.



The story of Jewish refugees from Arab states must be returned to the narrative of the modern Middle East from which it has been erased.



In the absence of truth and justice, there can be no reconciliation, without which there can be no just, lasting peace between and among all peoples of the region.



Demand that the United Nations address the grievances and injustices to the displaced former Jewish refugees from Arab countries, and acknowledge the centuries-old, vibrant  Jewish life that has been expunged from the history of the Middle East.


Conscious of its mission “to safeguard the rights of Jews […] around the world,” and recognizing “there exists a moral imperative to ensure that justice for [over 800,00] Jews who were expelled or forced out of Arab countries [since 1948] assumes its rightful place on the international, political and judicial agenda, and that their rights be secured as a matter of law and equity,” the JCPA reaffirms its support for the initiative “Justice for Jews from Arab Countries” (JJAC), launched under the auspices of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the World Jewish Congress, and the American Sephardi Federation, and recalls its commitment to “provid[e] the Jewish community relations field with periodic updates regarding its progress.” Further, the JCPA supports local efforts such as the San Francisco-based Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa (JIMENA) that work in conjunction with JJAC at the grassroots level to bring this issue to the public’s attention.



  • In support of an internal registry campaign, immediate and significant efforts must be made to assist in the collection of testimonials and the compilation of records in order to preserve the historical narrative as well as to document the physical and material losses suffered by Jews displaced from Arab countries. 


The community relations field should:

  • Include an insert on the collection of testimonial forms in a mailing to all members.
  • Include a link on the organization’s website to the campaign’s web site,
  • Publicize the campaign and distribute the testimonial forms at all public meetings.
  • Publish a notice in the organization’s regular newsletter to members.
  • To document the legal bases, in international law and jurisprudence, for pursuing rights and redress for the losses suffered by Jews displaced from Arab countries. In order to secure justice for Jews from Arab countries as a matter of law and equity, appropriate legal briefs will be prepared by qualified experts on relevant international law and jurisprudence, documenting the legal rights of Jews from Arab countries.


The community relations field should:

  • Have its members raise this issue in meetings of their professional and/or legal associations.


  • Encourage relevant governments and international bodies, pursuant to principles of international law, to support the cause of rights and redress for Jews displaced from Arab countries.


The community relations field should:

  • In meetings with officials (elected and appointed) of municipal, state, federal or international entities, in any discussion of the Middle East in general and refugees in particular, raise the issue and promote the case for rights and redress for Jews displaced from Arab countries following the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict.


  • Mobilize Jewish communal support and action in support of the rights of Jews from Arab countries. “Justice for Jews from Arab Countries” is intended to be a partnership coalition of all relevant, Jewish community organizations. Its success will be determined by the extent to which communal leadership demonstrates a commitment to, and involvement in, the national and international efforts to secure rights and redress. 


The community relations field should:

  • Urge Jewish organizational leaders to participate actively in these activities.


  • Undertake a public education and information campaign in support of the international efforts to recognize the repression of Jews in Arab countries that led to their being expelled, held as political hostages or compelled them to flee their homes, and secure rights and redress for Jews displaced from Arab countries. The story of the legitimate claims of Jews displaced from Arab lands must be publicly advocated, targeting both elites and the public at large. The American Sephardi Federation can provide speakers and educational materials to be circulated widely through a variety of means (e.g. media, public conferences and lectures, publications, etc.)


The community relations field should:

  • Schedule lectures on this subject for communal leadership and/or members.
  • Raise the rights of Jews displaced from Arab lands in press releases or at press conferences that the community might hold on Middle East issues.
  • Include information on the rights of Jews from Arab countries in briefing papers or advocacy manuals prepared for leadership or members at large.
  • Promote a ‘traveling exhibit’ on the plight of Jews displaced from Arab countries.
  • Publicize public conferences or lectures that will be held on this issue.


  • The JCPA and its member agencies will serve as a resource for action to implement the above goals and will remain watchful of the attainment of justice for Jews from Arab countries.


Furthermore, local CRCs should build a local grassroots base of support by:


  • Engaging in an outreach campaign to the Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews in their communities toward building a grassroots base of support for this endeavor, and
  • Establishing a relationship with those organizations – national and local – already working on this issue, such as Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish organizations, American Sephardi Federation, Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa, World Jewish Congress.