The Israeli government on Monday marked the annual day of commemoration for Jewish refugees exiled from Arab lands and Iran with a ceremony in Jerusalem.
The event was organized by the Ministry for Social Equality and in partnership with the Education Ministry, the World Jewish Congress and Yad Yitzhak Ben Zvi.
The Israeli Mission to the United Nations was to hold a second ceremony on Tuesday at its chambers in New York, also co-sponsored by the WJC.
Israel's Minister for Social Equality Gila Gamliel presided over both events, with nearly 2,000 in attendance in Jerusalem and another 150 expected to be present in New York. 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
During her address in Jerusalem, Gamliel praised the important role taken by the World Jewish Congress in promoting awareness of the issue and acknowledged the leadership of WJC CEO and Executive Vice President Robert Singer.
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.
“This is part of an ongoing distortion of the truth that, sadly, has become a mainstay of this international body,” Singer said.
“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, Israel's 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 and said it would become part of Israeli schools curricula.
Entertainment at the Jerusalem event included acclaimed poets and musicians, themselves descended of refugees from Arab lands, including Yair Dalal, Roni Somek and Haim Uliel.