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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

Bill Linking Palestinian and Jewish Refugees Sets a Dangerous Precedent

Rating: 2 votes, 5.00 average.

A new bill
in the House of Representatives seeks to link resolution of the
Palestinian refugee situation with the plight of Jews (and Christians)
expelled from Arab lands.  Both Palestinians and Jews suffered as a
result of expulsions from their home countries during and after the
creation of the State of Israel.  Palestinians left and were forced to
leave Israel (and the West Bank and Gaza).  And most Jews living in
Muslim countries left or were forced to leave their homes as well.  The
bill is designed to ensure that these Jews are not forgotten by linking
resolution of their issues with resolution of the on-going Palestinian
refugee crisis.  The bill's supporters state:


Any comprehensive Middle East peace
agreement can only be credible and enduring if it resolves all issues
related to the rights of all refugees in the Arab world and Iran,
including Jews, Christians and others.



In the chess game of life, Palestinians are everyone's favorite pawn.



The legislation has bipartisan support in the House and calls on the
Obama administration to pair any reference to Palestinian refugees with a
similar reference to Jewish and other refugees.


While I agree that it is important to remember and address the
grievances of Jews and others expelled from Arab lands (I recently wrote
about this issue), linking the resolution of that problem with the
issue of Palestinian refugees sets a dangerous precedent and undermines
international law related to the protection of refugees.


The United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951) defines a refugee as:


A person who owing to a well-founded fear
of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality,
membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside
the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is
unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who,
not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former
habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to
such fear, is unwilling to return to it.


The majority of Palestinians who fled Israel and now live in various
Arab countries are "refugees" according to this definition.  They do
"not [have] a nationality and [are] outside the country of [their]
former habitual residence as a result of such events."  Of course one
reason they remain refugees is because the different Arab governments
have refused to grant them citizenship.  The other reason is that Israel
does not permit them to return home.


As opposed to the Palestinians, the large majority of Jews who fled
Arab countries are not "refugees" as that term is defined in
international law.  Most (if not all) such Jews have been granted
citizenship in their new country of residence (be it Israel, the U.S.,
France or some other country).  Also, for the most part, Jews expelled
from Arab lands do not wish to return to their home countries.  This
does not mean that these Jews do not have legitimate claims for
compensation for lost land, property, and the lives of loved ones.  They
most certainly do.  But this is not the same as being a refugee.  Thus,
the new bill is factually incorrect when it refers to such Jews as
refugees.


Far worse than the semantics of "who is a refugee" is the problem of politicizing a humanitarian benefit.  Anyone
who meets the definition of "refugee" is a refugee.  Period.  Such
people are entitled to protection in the host country because they are
refugees.  There are no other requirements (though obviously there are
exceptions for persecutors, criminals, and terrorists). 


By linking the fate of one refugee population to another, the bill
adds an external contingency to international refugee law.  We no longer
protect refugees because they are refugees.  Now, we only protect them
if some other conditions are met.  Does this mean that we should deport
legitimate asylum seekers from Mexico until Mexico compensates us for Pancho Villa's
1916 invasion?  Can Great Britain deny asylum to all Egyptians unless
Egypt returns the Suez Canal?  Is Japan permitted to reject all Chinese
asylum seekers until China returns "Manchukuo?"


This is not how international refugee law works.  We do not blame the
victims and hold them hostage until some outside contingency-in this
case a contingency not of their own making-is satisfied.  In other
words, it is not the fault of Palestinian refugees that Jews were
expelled from Arab lands.  So why should the Palestinians' fate be tied
to compensation for the Jewish "refugees" (something over which they
have no control)?



I think the real motivation for this bill is not to help Jews from
Arab lands.  Rather, it is to justify Israel's refusal to allow
Palestinians to return to their homeland by demonstrating that there was
suffering and loss "on both sides."  This seems to me a cynical and
sinister use of international refugee law.  I hope the bill will be
soundly rejected.


Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.

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