Dezionization: Hanan Ashrawi’s own goal

As upset as veteran Palestinian spokeswoman and high-ranking PLO member Hanan Ashrawi seems to be about recent Israeli efforts to highlight the plight of Jewish refugees from Arab and Muslim countries, there is little doubt that she felt very clever when she came up with the assertion that Israel’s stance in this matter amounts to “dezionization.”

After arguing in an article for the Arab press that the “claim that Jews who migrated to Israel, which is supposed to be their homeland, are ‘refugees’ who were uprooted from their homelands… is a form of deception and delusion,” Ashrawi apparently thought that she should “improve” on this point. Writing  a few days later in the Huffington Post, she decried “Israel’s Cynical Definition of ‘Refugee’” and claimed:

“At the very core of Zionist ideology is the idea that Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people. If this is the case, and Jews living in Israel are citizens of their singular national homeland, then the state cannot consider them refugees — they cannot be returnees to Israel and refugees from another homeland at the same time. Demanding that the international community treat Jewish immigrants as refugees is therefore an act of ‘dezionization.’”

It’s an argument that is stupid in so many ways that it is hard to list them all.

For starters, Israel of course doesn’t claim that the Jewish refugees who were forced to abandon their ancient communities all over the Middle East since the late 1940s are still refugees. But it’s an undisputable historical fact that many of them came to Israel as destitute refugees. Collectively, these refugees were forced to leave behind assets that would nowadays be worth several billion dollars, and it has been estimated that 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.”

Why Ashrawi would think it makes sense to argue that acknowledging these well-documented historical facts amounts to “an act of ‘dezionization’” is rather mysterious. Perhaps she is so busy trying to score points that she doesn’t stop to think through the implications of her “argument.”

Ashrawi’s bizarre notion that Jews who came to Israel could not be refugees if Israel is their homeland can easily be shown to be complete nonsense. Just consider what happens when Ashrawi’s criteria are applied to other refugees who ended up in their homelands: as I and others have pointed out, there were some 25 million people in post-war Europe and post-partition India who had to abandon their long-time homes to seek refuge in their respective homelands. According to Ashrawi’s “reasoning”, these 25 million people never were refugees – they were simply people who went home…

Moreover, if the Jews from the Middle East who fled to Israel shouldn’t be considered refugees, then neither should the Jews from Europe who fled the Nazis or who survived the Holocaust. According to Ashrawi, we have the choice to either agree with her view that it would be “cynical” to regard these people as refugees, or we insist on calling them refugees and risk “dezionization.”

Ashrawi seems to have convinced herself that somehow, Zionism crumbles if not all the Jews who came to Israel were motivated first and foremost by their Zionism and decided to make Aliyah out of their own free will. This is of course an utterly mistaken idea, as Ashrawi could have easily realized had she bothered to check out a document as basic as Israel’s Declaration of Independence. There she would have discovered that right from the start, the re-established Jewish state was meant to offer a refuge for persecuted Jews:

“After being forcibly exiled from their land, the people kept faith with it throughout their Dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it and for the restoration in it of their political freedom.

Impelled by this historic and traditional attachment, Jews strove in every successive generation to re-establish themselves in their ancient homeland. […]

The catastrophe which recently befell the Jewish people – the massacre of millions of Jews in Europe – was another clear demonstration of the urgency of solving the problem of its homelessness by re-establishing in Eretz-Israel the Jewish State, which would open the gates of the homeland wide to every Jew and confer upon the Jewish people the status of a fully privileged member of the comity of nations.

Survivors of the Nazi holocaust in Europe, as well as Jews from other parts of the world, continued to migrate to Eretz-Israel, undaunted by difficulties, restrictions and dangers, and never ceased to assert their right to a life of dignity, freedom and honest toil in their national homeland.”

There are of course countless other documents and texts one could quote to illustrate how ridiculous Ashrawi’s idea is that it would be “an act of ‘dezionization’” to acknowledge that many of the Jews who came to Israel arrived as refugees. Indeed, if Ashrawi accomplished anything with her “dezionization”-bombast, she scored a spectacular own goal.

If we consider for a moment what it would mean for Palestinian claims of refugee-status if we took her argument about the supposed impossibility of being a refugee in one’s own homeland serious, we see that Ashrawi has single-handedly managed to solve the Palestinian refugee problem. Since Palestinians consider historic Palestine their homeland, there can’t be any Palestinian refugees there – not in Gaza, not in the West Bank, and arguably also not in Jordan.

Moreover, since official Palestinian documents describe the Palestinian people as “part of the Arab Nation, Palestinians who live in Arab countries really live under the rule of their nation and thus also cannot really claim to be refugees, right? Well, at least that’s what we get if we accept Hanan Ashrawi’s logic…

* * *

This is a somewhat belated cross-post from my JPost blog, where I posted this piece a few days ago.


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