Mr. Scott Reid (Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, CPC)
|| That the First Report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, presented on Friday, November 8, 2013, be concurred in.
He said: Mr. Speaker, the first report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development deals with the subject matter of Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa. These are the Jewish refugees who were driven from their homes, often at risk to their lives and almost always with complete loss of all property, and the destruction of communities that had existed, in some cases for two millennia, since biblical times. This great series of tragedies occurred in many countries and took place primarily between 1948 and the early 1970s.
The Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development dealt with this subject matter and drew it to the attention of the House. I believe that we should concur in this report and in its two recommendations today.
I thought I might take the House through the background to this, as a starting point.
I will quote from the first page of the report of the committee to give members an idea of what that subject matter is. It states:
|| In the course of its hearings, the Committee learned of the discrimination and hardship faced by Jewish people living in the Middle East and North Africa in the twentieth century. Much of this discrimination, which was practiced by governments in the region against their Jewish populations, surged over the years in tandem with the crisis moments of the Arab-Israeli conflict, in particular the 1948–49 and 1967 wars. As a result, almost all of the Jews in Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen eventually left their homes and communities, which had existed in the Middle East and North Africa for centuries.
The committee was anxious to ensure that this great human tragedy should be placed in its proper context. It was not unique among refugee movements connected with the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Two paragraphs later, on the first page of the report, the committee stated:
|| The Committee would also underline its belief that recognition of the experiences of Jewish refugees does not diminish or compete with the situation of Palestinian refugees.
I believe that the drawing of parallels is a key component to any proper understanding of this particular series of human tragedies.
The committee went on to make two recommendations. It is a lengthy and thoughtful report, but I want to quote from the two recommendations because I believe this is also important when giving a proper context.
Recommendation No. 1 states:
|| The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada officially recognize the experience of Jewish refugees who were displaced from states in the Middle East and North Africa after 1948.
I would say that this language suggests that the committee meant “including 1948” and the subsequent years. That is perhaps a quibble, but I would make that point.
Recommendation No. 2 states:
|| The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada encourage the direct negotiating parties to take into account all refugee populations as part of any just and comprehensive resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian and Arab-Israeli conflicts.
Those are the recommendations that were made by the committee. There was a supplementary report put out by the New Democrats. I will also quote from that in order to provide some context. It states:
|| New Democrats are in support of Recommendation 1, which calls on the Government of Canada to officially recognize the experience of Jewish refugees who were displaced from states in the Middle East and North Africa after 1948.
I have to assume that means that the New Democrats are not in accord, and dissent from, recommendation number two, which, again, states that the Government of Canada ought to encourage the direct negotiating parties, meaning the Israelis and the people representing the Palestinians and their Arab states, to take into account all refugee populations as part of any just and comprehensive solution to the Israeli-Palestinian and Arab-Israeli conflicts.
I assume that the New Democrats are arguing that the situation of Jewish refugees ought not to be taken into account, unless they are also suggesting that Palestinian refugees should also be ignored. They are making a divide between Palestinian refugees and Jewish refugees, the former group being worthy of recognition, the second group worthy of being ignored. That is a position with which I must say that I strongly disagree.
Today I am moving concurrence with the report and its recommendations in its entirety, not one recommendation and not the other, which would be the New Democratic position. I will turn to the rationalization later.
When I first saw it, I was frankly taken aback. However, I think there is a mistaken, but well-meaning, belief behind the New Democrat position, to which I will return. If I am wrong about my supposition as to what they are thinking, then they will have a much harder time defending their point of view as being worthy of a group that, at least on paper, is in favour of the equality of all human beings, and the normal recognition of the human rights of all humans as being equal.
Let us go to the extent of the issue that we are discussing here today. In the period that we are discussing, starting in 1948 and progressing to the present, but primarily consisting of the period between 1940 and the early 1970s, 580,000 Jewish refugees fled countries in North Africa and the Middle East and went to Israel. There were 260,000 who fled their homes and went to countries other than Israel.
For the numbers I will be using today, I rely on two sources, which I take as being quite reliable: one is Sir Martin Gilbert's atlas of the Arab-Israeli conflict; and the other is Sir Martin Gilbert's, The Jews of Arab Lands: Their History in Maps. Sir Martin Gilbert is Sir Winston Churchill's official biographer. Among his other accomplishments, he has been in the process, over the course of half a century, of building the definitive biography of Sir Winston Churchill. He has gone from being a very young man, serving as Sir Winston's secretary, to being an elderly man doing this work. He has also done extensive work on providing objective background information relating to the conflict in the Middle East.
He says that in 1945 there were 870,000 Jews living in the Arab world, in communities that go back as far as biblical times. He noted that 580,000 Jewish refugees went to Israel and 260,000 found refuge in Europe and the Americas, meaning that there was almost a complete depopulation of the Jewish populations in these countries.
To give a sense of how complete this depopulation was, I will return to the stories of three countries, Tunisia, Yemen, and Aden, which are now one country, and finally, Libya. He gives these numbers. In 1948, there were 110,000 Jews in Tunisia; by 1974, there were 2,000. In Yemen, in 1948, there were 55,000 Jews. That is a community that dates back to well before the time of Christ, before the time of the Romans. By 1974, there were 500 Jews. In Aden, which is South Yemen, in 1948 there were 8,000; in 1974, there were zero, not one left. In Libya, there was a population of 38,000 in 1948; by 1974, there were 20 Jews left in Libya.
The conditions were not the same in all countries. I chose those countries because they demonstrate both the best and the worst of reactions in the North African and Middle Eastern world to their Jewish minorities.
There is a parallel. According to the United Nations, there were 725,000 Palestinian refugees who left what became Israel, that is, Israel within its 1948 boundaries, pre-1967 boundaries, as a result of that conflict. The UN estimates it was 725,000. The Israelis estimate that between 550,000 and 600,000 Arabs fled from there. I assume that we would probably take the United Nations estimate as being the more reliable of the two.
It is worth noting that 160,000 of these individuals, of the original or indigenous Palestinian Arab population of Israel within its 48 boundaries, either remained in Israel during the conflict or returned to their homes during 1949, the very next year. That gives us a bit of a sense of the extent.
Of the people who fled, most fled to countries in the immediate surrounding areas, such as Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and Egypt. Others went to what is now the West Bank. Some went to the Gaza Strip.
Others went further afield and left the Middle East entirely. A fairly small number went to places like Canada, the United States, and Europe, where they have integrated very well and have become a productive part of our populations. That is just like the Jews, who left and went to Europe, Canada, and the United States to become a well integrated and successful part of the local population.
However, the key ex post facto difference between the Jewish refugees and diaspora in these countries and the Palestinian diaspora from Israel is the way in which they were received in their Middle East host countries. The Jews who fled from Yemen, Libya, Morocco, Algeria, Iraq, and elsewhere were very successfully integrated into Israeli society. They became full status citizens. They have contributed prime ministers and presidents, captains of industry and military leaders. They are, in fact, the majority of Israeli Jews today, and a very successful majority, I might add.
In contrast, the Palestinians, in their host countries, were not given citizenship rights. The first generation, those who left in 1948, have almost all passed away now. Their children and grandchildren, and in some cases great-grandchildren, remain, deprived of citizenship rights in their host countries. They are in refugee camps that are actually cities by now, but with none of the normal citizenship rights, including the right to own property, the right to freedom of movement, egress, and other obvious political rights. All of these things are denied them.
That distinction is the key fact on the ground that is different between the Jewish refugees of 1948 and the Palestinian refugees of 1948. It is an important distinction, but it is not an important distinction in terms of the injustice of what happened in the first place. It is a reflection of the fact that Israel adopted a much wiser policy toward its incoming population. Of course, it encouraged that influx as well, as compared to the response of the surrounding Arab countries.
Let me now turn to a very important question relating to the nature of the flow of populations. I said I would come back to the NDP's response. To some degree, the NDP's response is governed by its reaction to one of the disputes that historians have in this area. I am now going to quote to summarize what this dispute is, from the Wikipedia article, “Jewish exodus from Arab and Muslim countries”. Wikipedia is frequently a very good place for summarizing these fundamental disputes in the historiography. It says:
|| When presenting the history, those who view the Jewish exodus as equivalent to the 1948 Palestinian exodus, such as the Israeli government and NGOs such as JJAC and JIMENA, emphasize “push factors”, such as cases of anti-Jewish violence and forced expulsions, and refer to those affected as “refugees”. Those who argue that the exodus does not equate to the Palestinian exodus emphasize “pull factors”, such as the actions of local Zionist agents who encouraged Zionist ideology, highlight good relations between the Jewish communities and their country's governments, emphasize the impact of other push factors such as the decolonization in the Maghreb and the Suez War and Lavon Affair in Egypt, and argue that many or all of those who left were not refugees.
By implication, perhaps, this would include economic migrants or those who were making Aliyah for religious or ideological reasons.
The pull argument summarizes the New Democratic position.
Let me now give some examples of different countries. I mentioned that I would look at Tunisia versus Yemen versus Libya as examples of different treatments of Jewish minorities in countries that effectively lost their entire populations as a result of the post-1948 conflicts.
I will start with Tunisia and, again, I am quoting Sir Martin Gilbert.
Sir Martin Gilbert points out that Tunisia had a Jewish population in 1948 of 110,000, and by 1974, that population had declined to 2,000. Anybody can do the math: this is a drop of 98%. Therefore, 98% of the Jews either left or perhaps simply died. However, he gives an interesting example of the kind of force that caused Jews to leave Tunisia. He says that “on June 5, 1967, there were anti-Jewish riots. The Great Synagogue was burned. The Scrolls of the Law were destroyed. One Jew was killed”.
What happened afterwards was that President Bourguiba of Tunisia “publicly condemned the riot, apologized to the Chief Rabbi, and ensured that the rioters were punished, compensation paid, and the synagogue rebuilt”.
Jews massively left Tunisia anyway, but clearly it was not a case of an anti-Semitic regime or a president trying to make that happen, which is the best of the examples. However, there was a voluntary transfer of population, and I suspect it was a reluctant population transfer. Of course, there was widespread anti-Semitism, including violent anti-Semitism, within Tunisian society.
Between Yemen and Aden, Yemen had by far the larger of the two populations. The Jewish population in Yemen was withdrawn through an operation which was code named “Operation Magic Carpet”.
Over the course of time between June 1949 and September 1950, there were 47,000 Yemeni Jews, 1,500 Jews from Aden, and a further 500 Jews from Djibouti and Eritrea—which is just across the Red Sea in the Horn of Africa—who were flown in transport planes provided by Israel, the Royal Air Force, and the United States air force to the new State of Israel. This was effectively the entire population of this area.
A while later, there was an effort coordinated by the British to remove the entire population from Aden, which at that point was a British protectorate. As I said, the result was a complete depopulation of the area. This happened after a series of increasingly brutal and vicious attacks on the Yemeni Jews, many of which were informal or popular, but not coordinated by the government.
The rationale that was given by Yemeni Jews for leaving is summarized by a later scholar. Basically, the Yemeni Jews were driven by a number of factors. One factor was an idealistic belief that they would have a new and better home in Israel. A second factor was the kind of discrimination, often murderous discrimination, they faced back home in Yemen. Another consideration was that if the rest of the community was leaving, what does one do? Is one's community the building one lives in or is it the people one lives among? These were the forces that brought them to Israel.
I will now turn to the last example, which is the clearest case of people being refugees in the absolute formal sense. This is Libya's story.
In Libya, the population went from 38,000 Jews in 1948, to 20 in 1974. In November 1945, more than 100 Jews were murdered in anti-Jewish riots across Libya. In 1951, with Libya's independence, all Jewish ties were cut with Israel and Jewish organizations abroad. In 1963, the Jewish right to vote was rescinded, there were mass arrests, and Jews were forbidden to hold public office. Finally, in 1970, Colonel Gadhafi announced the seizure of all Jewish property, without compensation.
Over 100 Jews were killed. Homes, shops, and synagogues were looted and destroyed at the time of the Six Day War in 1967. Sir Martin Gilbert provides a useful map of towns in which more than 100 Jews were murdered, some tortured, some burnt alive, in the 1945 riots.
In this case, these were former refugees and they fled. Their situation may not be the situation of every Jew who arrived from the Middle East to Israel, but clearly, many of these people were genuine refugees and therefore it seems reasonable to treat them in the same manner as the Palestinian refugees when looking for any settlement.
Mr. Nathan Cullen:
Thank you for the clarification, Mr. Speaker. The motivation for this concurrence motion today is in light of the fact that the Conservatives were caught. They got caught having written a law. Rather than comply with the laws that exist—with their dirty tactics such as the robocalls, the in-and-out scandals, all the rest that the Conservatives do to try to rig the election, and hopefully rig the next election—they wish to change the laws to permit their dirty tactics, to muzzle the Chief Electoral Officer, and to prevent him from talking and encouraging Canadians to vote.
Rather than comply with the law, the Conservatives change the law to fit their own needs. Then they put a time allocation on that very debate, rather than go with the traditions of Canada in which the opposition parties and the Chief Electoral Officer would be brought in, in an inclusive way. Canadians would be brought in when dealing with something so foundational as our electoral laws. That has always been the history, regardless the political stripe of the governance of the day--
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Mr. Nathan Cullen: Mr. Speaker, Conservatives continue to heckle because they have nothing else to say. The point of the effort today is to provide delay and distraction from what has happened, because in setting time allocation on a debate about our democracy, in refusing public consultations on our election laws, Conservatives have abandoned their basic Reform principles so far that it is breathtaking. The founders of the Reform Party have called it such, as Mr. Manning did this past weekend.
To then add insult to injury, in order to then rationalize why this law is needed, Conservatives invent facts, mislead the House, and invent stories that did not happen, as the member for Mississauga—Streetsville did.
They can continue to heckle, only confirming their lack of ability to actually enter into a debate. If they want to have a debate about the election laws in Canada, we welcome it. If they want to have consultation with Canadians, we welcome it. The Conservatives do not. Why? It is because they have to invent things in order to rationalize their bill, to justify their election law.
Then they were caught. What a shame. They were caught misleading the House. The Conservative MP twice told something to Parliament and Canadians watching that was not true and then half admitted that it may have been a misstatement of fact. It is not a misstatement of fact. In common parlance that we are not allowed to use here in Parliament because it is unparliamentary, most Canadians call that a lie. Here we call it misleading the House. The member was found on a prima facie case of contempt. We all know how hard that is to do. It is not easy. A politician has to work really hard to be found in contempt of Parliament, but the Conservative member did. Congratulations to him for such infamy. There are a few on the list—Bev Oda, Art Eggleton—but there are not many who have been able to do this.
They get caught having disdain and disrespect for Parliament. Then in the course of the debate over that motion, they now seek to invoke closure over that. It is not good enough to have been caught; they want the thing to go away. In the midst of all that, to further add insult to injury, they say they do not even want to debate that; so they are going to move a concurrence motion today to take up three hours of the House's time, rather than talk about a Conservative MP misleading the House. That is what is happening today.
The Conservatives purport to be a democratic party of any notion. It is reprehensible that they continue to hold this place in such contempt. The word is an important word, and words matter for those of us who are engaged in this public service. Our words should matter.
The Conservative member for Mississauga—Streetsville was caught out. He told something that was not true in order to rationalize a bad election bill, an unfair election act that would deprive many Canadians of their right to vote and would muzzle the Chief Electoral Officer from talking to Canadians and encouraging them to vote. What modern G8 country would ever have such a thing, where the Chief Electoral Officer is banned from talking to the electorate about the importance and need for voting, particularly those groups who do not vote: poor Canadians, young Canadians, aboriginal Canadians? That is what the Conservatives have done.
In the midst of all that, they invent stories to justify their bill because they do not have anything else. They do not have evidence. They do not have facts. They have not consulted with anybody other than the Conservative Party of Canada, as if it were somehow the vehicle for all good things democratic. This is the same Conservative Party of Canada that perpetrated the robocalls scandal, that used its database to go after Canadians and deny them their right to vote, that broke the election spending limit by the in-and-out scandal, by a bit of a shell game, passing money into a riding then out of a riding, thereby breaking all the election laws.
The Conservative Party was were found in contempt of court. It engaged in what the judge called “trench warfare”.