On February 20th, CAMERA Fellow Lauren Barney at the University of Pittsburgh hosted a panel discussion on Jewish refugees from the Arab world as part of Israel Peace Week. About 20 students from groups across the campus attended. These groups include BAS (Black Action Society), JSU (Jewish Student Union), and FORGE (Facilitating Opportunities for Refugee Growth and Empowerment), as well as from a number of Israel leadership organizations.
The event started off with a video from JIMENA, an organization representing Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa, titled “The Forgotten Refugees.” “The Forgotten Refugees” describes the life and culture of Jews living in the Middle East and North Africa, before the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the disintegration of that life and culture, and the disappearance of those communities. These more than one million Sephardic Jews instantly became refugees at the hands of the Arab countries which they called home. The film follows the personal stories of refugees and how, at a time when there is so much outrage throughout the world over particularly Palestinian refugees, these Jewish refugees have been forgotten.
The group then listened to a refugee from Algiers who now lives in Pittsburgh, Oded, an Iraqi refugee now living in Israel, and Albert, an Egyptian refugee now living in California, as they told their stories and the stories of their families. The group asked questions about the integration pre-1948 within the Arab world and about their interaction with their Arab neighbors. Responses varied between the panelists, but they often felt that as “Dhimi” they were relegated to second-class citizenship.
Lastly, the group watched a number of clips from MEMRI, the Middle East Media Research Institute, about the persecution of Jews before they fled and of those who remained behind. Education about the life of these refugees is very important to an understanding of modern Jewry within Israel and internationally. Knowledge of the massacres and persecution that Jews endured in Muslim countries can help better promote the need for a Jewish nation.
Contributed by CAMERA intern Aaron Marks