Both my parents left their birth country, the place they once called home, never to return. My father was recognized as a refugee, when, after returning from his Russian refuge during World War II, having lost both his parents, all but one of his uncles, all his cousins and most everybody he knew to the German murder machine. My mother and her relatives, though, were not recognized as such. True, they did not flee war, but were part of a wave of 800’000 Jews who, because of rising antisemitism, harassment, veiled and not so veiled threats, and sometimes (though not in my mother’s case) outright hateful government action, left Muslim countries in the years following the establishment of the State of Israel and the Six Day War 19 years later. All of these refugees left things behind, neither having the choice to stay, nor to be fairly compensated for what is theirs.
André Aciman, writing in the New York Times, brilliantly captures the forgotten plight of those refugees:
Never before has a president gone over to the Arab world and broadcast its flaws so loudly and clearly: extremism, nuclear weapons programs and a faltering record in human rights, education and economic development — the Arab world gets no passing grades in any of these domains. Mr. Obama even found a moment to mention the plight of Egypt’s harassed Coptic community and to criticize the new wave of Holocaust deniers. And to show he was not playing favorites, he put the Israelis on notice: no more settlements in the occupied territories. He spoke about the suffering of Palestinians. This was no wilting olive branch.
And yet, for all the president’s talk of “a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world” and shared “principles of justice and progress,” neither he nor anyone around him, and certainly no one in the audience, bothered to notice one small detail missing from the speech: he forgot me.
The president never said a word about me. Or, for that matter, about any of the other 800,000 or so Jews born in the Middle East who fled the Arab and Muslim world or who were summarily expelled for being Jewish in the 20th century. With all his references to the history of Islam and to its (questionable) “proud tradition of tolerance” of other faiths, Mr. Obama never said anything about those Jews whose ancestors had been living in Arab lands long before the advent of Islam but were its first victims once rampant nationalism swept over the Arab world.