S.F. agency chief testifies on behalf of Jewish refugees

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Gina Waldman, president of the S.F.-based nonprofit JIMENA, testified by video in front of a Canadian Parliament committee last week that Jewish refugees from Arab countries have been ignored by the Western world.

“The expulsion of nearly 1 million Jews from nine Arab countries has had no political consequences,” Waldman told the Canadian House of Commons Standing Commit-tee on Foreign Affairs and International Development on May 7 in Vancouver.

Waldman testified by video teleconference from Budapest, Hungary, where she was attending the World Jewish Congress Plenary Assembly. She was one of eight witnesses.

Gina Waldman

JIMENA, which stands for Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa, is a group dedicated to the preservation of Mizrachi and Sephardic culture.

The hearings marked the first time the Canadian government had heard testimony on the issue of Jewish refugees.

In her testimony, Waldman encouraged the Canadian Parliament to pass legislation similar to that adopted by the U.S. Congress in 2008, saying that an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement must deal with all issues relating to refugees, including Jewish refugees.

 “Two years after my expulsion [from Libya], I came to the Untied States as a refugee. My Jewish community in San Francisco integrated me. I am a shining, living proof that [one can rise] above victimhood,” Waldman said. “Do you know what was one of the most painful things to endure? The realization that the United Nations and the international community inoculated itself with apathy and indifference when it came to the plight of our people.”

According to information presented at the hearings, 856,000 Jews from Arab countries were displaced between 1948 and 1952, compared with 756,000 Palestinians.

“Two refugee populations were created as a result of the Arab-Israeli conflict,” David Koschitzky, the chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs Chair, said. “Unfortunately, the plight of Jewish refugees has been completely omitted from Canada’s Middle East policy, while that of the Palestinians features prominently.” 

Last fall, Israel’s then-deputy foreign minister, Daniel Ayalon, launched the “I am a Refugee” campaign in a bid to create parity between the struggle of Jewish and Palestinian refugees. Ayalon included publicizing the issue through Israel’s diplomatic missions. — jta & j. staff