MPs have held Parliament’s first-ever discussion on the plight of Jews throughout the Arab world in the immediate aftermath of the formation of the State of Israel.
The Westminster Hall debate, held on Wednesday evening, focused on way in which hundreds of thousands of Jews living in the Middle East and North Africa were forced by circumstance to leave their home for Israel in and after 1948.
Chipping Barnet MP Theresa Villiers said it amounted to “ethnic cleansing” and represented “an untold story and an unresolved injustice” as she urged the Government to recognise the mass displacement.
Between 1948 and 1972 up to 850,000 Jews left their homes in countries like Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Algeria. Most came from Morocco (290,000) and Syria (190,000). The biggest Jewish communities in the Muslim world today are in Turkey and Iran.
Zac Goldsmith, the Conservative MP for Richmond Park, suggested that the UK follow the United States and Canada in passing a resolution formally recognising the plight of Jewish refugees.
Alex Sobel, the Jewish Labour MP for Leeds North West, recalled how his mother’s best friend had been an Egyptian Jew who had fled to Israel in the 1950s.
“I grew up with stories of Egyptian Jews, Iranian Jews and Iraqi Jews who had to flee and who lost many things when they were fleeing,” he said. “I call for reparations for Jewish refugees from those countries as well as for Palestinian refugees.”
Robert Halfon, the Conservative MP for Harlow, said his Italian Jewish grandfather Renato “was forced to leave Libya because of pogroms” when Colonel Gaddafi took power.
“All Jewish businesses were seized… My grandfather, like thousands of other Libyan Jews, had nothing to return to – no home, no business. On top of oil money, Gaddafi bought the loyalty of his supporters by giving them all the property seized from Jews and Italians.”
Prime Minister Theresa May raised the plight of Jewish refugees in 2017 in a speech marking the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, in which she acknowledged that both Jewish and Palestinian populations had been affected.
Ivan Lewis, the independent MP for Bury South, used the debate last week to say it was “time to question the need for Palestinians to live in UN refugee camps,” adding: “They should be encouraged and supported to live in better conditions in Arab countries”.