Israel officially commemorated the tragic persecution and forced expulsion of almost one million Arab and Iranian Jews from their homes and countries of origin starting in 1948, after Israel declared independence as a Jewish state.

Israel held, for the second time in its history, an official commemoration for the Jews expelled from Arab countries and Iran in the years surrounding the Zionist initiative in Israel and after the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948.

Nearly 80 years ago, Arab countries began the exile of what would amount to 850,000 Jews, some from communities that existed for 3,000 years. The story was silenced by the world. Nearly 50 percent of the Jewish refugees made their home in the State of Israel.

Thousands attended the official commemoration event in Jerusalem on Monday. The event, titled “Longing for Home,” began with a moment of silence for Jews killed in pogroms in Arab countries and Iran.

Gila Gamliel

Minister Gila Gamliel. (Flash90)

This was followed by presentations by musicians and artists who came from the Middle Eastern countries or whose parents were forced to flee the anti-Semitic attacks. They shared their stories of persecution.

Singer Kobi Oz of Tunisian heritage, actress and singer Liraz Charhi of Iranian descent, musician Gilad Segev of Syrian descent, musician Haim Oliel of Moroccan heritage, musician Yair Dalal of Iraqi descent, singer Dikla of Egyptian heritage, singer Rita Shalhoun of Lebanese descent) and actor-singer Guy Zu-Aretz whose family is from Libya, all reminisced about the lives they left behind and recounted the horrors of their families’ forced expulsion.

Social Equity Minister Gila Gamliel, who spearheaded the initiative, said the ceremony corrected the lack of acknowledgment of the suffering of more hundreds of thousands of Jews who were forced to flee or were expelled from Middle Eastern and North African countries in the 20th century.

“We will work to introduce Jewish heritage from Arab countries and Iran to the Israeli education system,” she vowed.

A day-long symposium was also held at Bar-Ilan University in Israel on Monday in commemoration of the event.

Last year, the Knesset declared that by law, Israel would commemorate the expulsion of Jews from Arab countries and from Iran. This year’s events marked the second time an official state ceremony has been held, while it was commemorated on an unofficial level for several years prior.

International Denial

The Israeli Mission to the United Nations held a second ceremony on Tuesday in New York, also co-sponsored by the World Jewish Congress (WJC).

“This is part of an ongoing distortion of the truth that, sadly, has become a mainstay of this international body [the UN],” said WJC CEO and Executive Vice President Robert Singer.

“It has always been in the interest of those who continue to deny Israel’s legitimacy to focus on Palestinian refugees and ignore the Jewish refugees, tossed out by the very same Arab states that time and again have refused to help refugees among their own.”

“The anti-Israel narrative repeated in the United Nations has extended the conflict in the Middle East,” Singer added.

“The Israeli-Palestinian crisis that has lasted for decades will continue for years to come unless people begin to speak honestly about what happened.”

In a video message to the event, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the creation of an annual prize for research in the field of the heritage of Jews from Arab lands and Iran. Both Netanyahu and Gamliel stressed the importance of this topic ofr Israel’s heritage and identity.

By: Max Gelber, United with Israel
JNS contributed to this report.

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