Refugee bill waits
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Refugee bill waits

A bill addressing the rights of Jewish refugees expelled from Arab countries during Israel’s war of independence was scheduled to come up for discussion in the House of Representatives last week but has been delayed in committee.

Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) introduced House Res. 185 last February and it has waited to come before the Foreign Affairs Committee. It had been scheduled for mark-up last Wednesday but the death of the committee’s chair, Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), last week delayed the bill’s retrieval from its yearlong limbo.

Despite the delay, the resolution’s author remained steadfast in his support.

"We must recognize the rights of Jewish refugees — the forced exile of Jewish refugees from Arab lands must not be omitted from the public dialogue on the peace process," Nadler said in a statement to The Jewish Standard.  "My resolution, which enjoys bipartisan support, would help bring recognition to these forgotten refugees.  I am hopeful that Congress will adopt this resolution in a timely manner."

As of Wednesday, the bill had 39 co-sponsors, including Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9).

"Any comprehensive Middle East peace agreement that only addresses Palestinians would be shamefully and inexcusably incomplete," Rothman said in a statement to the Standard. "The plight of nearly 1 million Jews, Christians, and other minority groups displaced from Arab countries since the birth of Israel in 1948 must also be recognized and addressed."

The bill, according to a Nadler spokesman, should come up the next time the Foreign Affairs Committee meets. The spokesman did not know when that would be, though.

According to the resolution, the House regards the creation of refugee populations in the Middle East as the result of human rights violations.

At the same time Nadler introduced his bill, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) introduced an identical bill in the Senate. That bill also awaits a hearing in the Senate’s Committee on Foreign Relations.

According to the resolution, "[w]hereas armed conflicts in the Middle East have created refugee populations numbering in the hundreds of thousands and comprised of peoples from many ethnic, religious, and national backgrounds….

"Approximately 850,000 Jews have been displaced from Arab countries since the declaration of the State of Israel in 1948."

Although the cause of Jewish refugees from Arab countries has seemingly taken a back seat in Arab-Israeli negotiations, as the majority of the refugees were resettled in Israel, Jewish refugees have been addressed several times through the years.

U.N. Security Council Res. ‘4’ calls for "achieving a just settlement of the refugee problem," which typically is heralded by Israel’s opponents as supporting a right of return for Arab refugees, although the resolution does not name a specific group of refugees or how to solve the problem.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees determined on Jan. ‘9, 1957, that Jews who fled Arab countries were designated as refugees under the UNHCR mandate.

President Jimmy Carter and Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Oct. 4, 1977, stating that a "solution of the problem of Arab refugees and Jewish refugees will be discussed in accordance with rules which should be agreed…."

Later that month, Carter announced in a press conference that "Palestinians have rights … obviously there are Jewish refugees … they have the same rights as others do…."

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