The NY Times Op-ed page had an editorial by Andre Aciman today.

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.

Nor did he bother to mention that with this flight and expulsion, Jewish assets were — let’s call it by its proper name — looted.


It is strange that our president, a man so versed in history and so committed to the truth, should have omitted mentioning the Jews of Egypt. He either forgot, or just didn’t know, or just thought it wasn’t expedient or appropriate for this venue. But for him to speak in Cairo of a shared effort “to find common ground … and to respect the dignity of all human beings” without mentioning people in my position would be like his speaking to the residents of Berlin about the future of Germany and forgetting to mention a small detail called World War II.

That’s a harsh conclusion and perhaps not one that is deserved, but the point Professor Aciman is making is a very valid one: why mention the suffering of the Copts in Egypt or of Palestinian refugees and omit mention of the Jewish refugees of the 1940s and 1950s? Why is this issue always forgotten while the Palestinians and their supporters scream about the injustice that they faced?

Very few people want to tackle this issue today because it adds a layer of severe complication to a situation already so complicated that nobody has the solution. All those wonderful ideologues like Walt & Mearsheimer or Obama’s adviser, Robert Malley, simply ignore this issue even as they focus on what Israel has done and what Israel needs to give up in order to find an “equitable” solution with the Palestinians. It should be stated in the same opportunity that the Arab states need to resolve their participation in the departure of 800,000 Jewish refugees from Arab lands. Refugees who live all over the world, including in Israel, because they had no place in their homeland, and who were often victims of circumstances which cost them their assets and their place of birth.

If the answer is that the creation of Israel is their just reward, then let’s be clear that while this may be a satisfactory answer for those seeking to play up the Palestinian situation, it diminishes the real pain and losses suffered by the Jewish refugees from Arab and Muslim lands.

In the past, Israel had offered the Palestinians participation in international reparations for their losses. Yet, the Arab and Muslim states are not even approached regarding the property and goods left behind by the former Jewish inhabitants. It isn’t justice when it is reserved for one victim but not the other.

About the author



  • Middle’s contribution is better than Aciman’s. Obama’s speech was many things; a comprehensive treatment of the grievances of the past was not one of them. The thrust of his approach was, we need to move on.

    Better to criticize what he did say, e.g., if it weren’t for the Holocaust, we wouldn’t have an Israel and its problematic territorial claims.

  • “In the past, Israel had offered the Palestinians participation in international reparations for their losses.”

    Really? That’s news to me. When, where? What were the details?

  • Taba, 2001. $30 billion were put on the table with an understanding the money would come from the international community and Israel would share in these reparations.