By Sean Durns
In an act more reminiscent of magician Harry Houdini than a major U.S. newspaper, The Washington Post omitted nearly 1 million Jewish refugees from Arab lands in a chart, “A visual guide to 75 years of major refugee crises around the world,” that was published in December.
The online infographic, claiming to provide a “brief guide to the major refugee events in recent history,” offers short descriptions of various refugee crises throughout the last 75 years. The displacement of persons from World War II to the ongoing Syrian civil war are noted as “major” events. Inexplicably, the more than 800,000 Jewish refugees who fled Arab lands in the Middle East and North Africa in the period following Israel’s War for Independence do not qualify.
Ron Prosor, Israel’s immediate past ambassador to the United Nations, has written, “At the end of World War II, 850,000 Jews lived in Arab countries. Just 8,500 remain today. Their departure was no accident. After Arab leaders failed to annihilate Israel militarily in 1948, they launched a war of terror, incitement, and expulsion to decimate their ancient Jewish communities.”
In Iraq, “Jewish businessman Shafiq Adas, then the country’s wealthiest citizen, was immediately arrested on trumped-up charges and publicly lynched. This was followed by bombings targeting Jewish institutions, arbitrary arrest of Jewish leaders, and massive government seizures of property. Within years virtually all of Iraq’s 2,500-year-old Jewish community had fled. … Similar scenes played out across the region, from Egypt to Syria to Libya to Yemen. … The total area of land confiscated from Jews in Arab countries amounts to nearly 40,000 square miles — about five times the size of Israel’s entire land mass.”
An estimated 586,000 of these Jewish refugees settled in Israel, at great expense to the Jewish state and without compensation by the Arab countries which, like Nazi Germany less than a decade before, seized Jewish real estate, businesses and personal belongings.
Large-scale Jewish immigration from some Middle Eastern countries even predated Israel’s 1948 War of Independence — but still falls under the period The Post claims to examine. For example, Iraqi Jews fled after the June 1, 1941 Nazi-inspired pogrom known as the Farhud (Arabic for “violent dispossession”), which left an estimated 700 Jews in Baghdad dead. As a BBC report noted, prior to the expulsion, “Jews made up about one in three” of Baghdad’s population — but by 1952, only 2,000 of the city’s 150,000 Jews were left.
None of this appears in The Post’s chart — which manages to note other crises of similarly tragic but smaller proportions, such as the displacement of 150,000 Tutsis from Rwanda to Burundi, Congo and Uganda between 1960 and 1964.
While Jews fleeing Arab countries are vanquished from The Post, an inflated figure of Palestinian Arab refugees from what became Israel is provided to readers. The paper claims that 750,000 “Palestinians from newly established Israel” went to the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), the Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon between 1948 and 1950.
However, the difference between the last census by the British, the ruling power in the U.N.’s Palestine mandate, in 1945 and the first official census by Israel in 1949 indicates 650,000 Arabs fled what became Israel. A 1949 report by the U.N. Mediator on Palestine reached an even lower figure: 472,000.
Although the United Nations Refugee Works Administration (UNRWA), the agency tasked with Palestinian Arab refugee management, provided much larger figures of Palestinian Arab refugees in subsequent years, it also includes the descendants of refugees in its classification. This contradicts the U.N.’s own definition of the term in its 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. UNRWA also has admitted that its own figures are unreliable.
In his Huffington Post commentary written before the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis, Prosor said that “forging a peaceful future in the Middle East will require Arab governments to finally learn the lessons of their past. They must build inclusive societies that protect minorities. … The first steps towards true pluralism will come when Arab countries acknowledge the history of persecution and intolerance in their own lands.”
Omitting Jewish refugees from Arab lands and spurning two requests from CAMERA for correction, The Post implicitly supports a narrative that erases the history and possible future of Arab countries tolerating more pluralistic societies.
Sean Durns is the media assistant in the Washington office of CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.