Israel’s Ambassador to the UK challenged the “lies” spread by the Nakba Day movement and called for more recognition of the plight of Arab Jewish refugees.
Speaking at an event to mark the persecution of Jews from Arab countries and Iran on Tuesday evening, Ambassador Tzipi Hotovely said: “Here in this country, the perception about Israel is: ‘Some European colonialists came to the Middle East and found shelter for the Jewish people’.
“That is not historically right.”
She added: “It’s important to remember Jews were always part of the Middle East and we are natives like our Arab neighbours. We are not colonialists who came from Europe.”
She also condemned the ‘Nakba Day’ movement – a so-called ‘disaster’ day designated by Palestinians after the state of Israel was founded in 1948.
She said: “They choose to deny the right of the Jewish State to exist… as if they were exiled from Israel. They don’t tell the whole story”.
Ambassador Hotovely said the persecution of Jews from the Middle East was a key part of the current political narrative.
She said: “All too often their plight has been forgotten outside Israel…
“Jews born in Arab states came to rebuild their future in Israel… it’s so important we remember it.”
She added: “Many are not aware of the fact that almost a million [Arab Jews] had to leave [their homes]. Israel accepted them – they are an integral part of the Israeli story.”
“I really hope that every Jew in this community, in general, people around the world will know this important chapter in history,” she added.
Many are not aware of the fact that almost a million [Arab Jews] had to leave [their homes]. Israel accepted them – they are an integral part of the Israeli story.
Ambassador Hotovely was speaking as part of a series of events held to commemorate the stories of Mizrahi Jews.
The online event – attended by 255 people including Tory MP Bob Blackman and former Labour MP Dame Louise Ellman – was coordinated by the Israeli Embassy, the Board of Deputies and Harif, which represents Mizrahi Jews.
Attendees also heard from Rabbi Dr Elie Abadi, senior Rabbi of the Jewish Council of the Emirates in Dubai who is of Syrian descent; Baghdad-born Edwin Shuker, vice-president of the Board; and Yeminite academic Ben Dror Yemini.
They shared their families’ stories of persecution and called for more education both within the Jewish community and outside it.
“Education is the most important thing to bring these stories, this history, to light,” said Rabbi Abadi. “It’s incumbent on us to do so.”
He called on the international community to recognise that Arab Jews were refugees of conflict, “not just Palestinian refugees”.
Reflecting on the need to preserve Jewish sites and artefacts left in Arab lands, Rabbi Abadi revealed that two years ago he “in person” asked Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to release 250 Torah scrolls from the country. “He’s willing to give us copies,” he said, adding that while some communities managed to smuggle Jewish artefacts out of their homes when they escaped, many were left behind.
“We ought to demand they be returned to the rightful community, wherever they are in the world,” he said.
Mr Shuker, who has visited Iraq since his family fled in the 1970s, said he saw the Torah scrolls that had been recovered from the basement of Saddam Hussein’s intelligence service headquarters. Mr Shuker said he tried to “take two or three” back to his community, but was refused.
The event was part of a series of communal online events held to recognise stories of Jews from Arab countries and Iran this week, to mark a law passed by the Knesset in 2014 to designate ‘30 November’ as a national day to commemorate their stories.
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