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41 House Members Urge President Bush to Recognize Plight of Libyan Jewish Refugees

March 30, 2004
Press Release

Washington, D.C. --- 41 members of the U.S. House of Representatives today sent a letter to President Bush urging him to place the plight of Jewish Libyan refugees on the agenda during U.S. negotiations with Libya. The request comes in response to recent statements by Libyan leader Col. Moammar Qaddafi and his son, Saif al-Islam, that have signaled that the Libyan government is open to allowing former Libyan Jews to return to Libya and acknowledge the need to address the matter of compensation.

In the bipartisan letter initiated by U.S. Reps. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), and Shelley Berkley (D-NV) the lawmakers stressed the need to address the issue of Jewish Libyan refugees before any decision is made to fully lift U.S. sanctions against Libya.

"This is a unique moment of opportunity to pursue this matter, and should not be delayed until after sanctions have been lifted," the members wrote in the letter to President Bush. "It is an historic opening for a new day not only in American-Libyan relations, but also for Libyan-Jewish relations and for the cause of peace in that troubled region."

In the letter, the lawmakers encourage President Bush to instruct U.S. negotiators to gauge Col. Qaddafi's commitment to his statements on Jewish refugees and to urge negotiators to raise the matter of Jewish communal assets in Libya.

"It is our hope that our government will proceed with care and caution before moving to lift economic sanctions," the members wrote. "The Libyan decision to take responsibility for Lockerbie and to agree to the destruction of its WMD programs are major milestones, and further progress must be encouraged on other fronts as well. We must not succumb to haste or artificial deadlines at a time when we may have an unprecedented opportunity."

"Libya has an opportunity to show that it's sincere in its pursuit of peace and reconciliation by rectifying the wrongs it committed against its former Jewish community." Pallone said. "Libya can also set an example for other nations to follow by reforming its ways and addressing the plight of Jewish Libyan refugees."

"Congress' message comes through loud and clear," said Shalom Naim, Chair of the American Libyan Jewish Association (ALJA), the organization leading recognition efforts in the community. "Libya must honor its debt to history before it can rejoin the family of nations."

The Libyan Jewish community formed one of the world's oldest Jewish communities, with approximately 40,000 Jews living in Libya at the time of the establishment of the State of Israel. Between 1948-69, the Libyan Jewish community was expelled and driven out in two separate waves. During that time, Jewish personal assets, houses of worship, community centers, schools, cemeteries and other communal facilities were expropriated and confiscated by various Libyan authorities, including the government of Col. Qaddafi.

Following is a list of the 41 lawmakers who signed onto the letter to President Bush: Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Shelley Berkley (D-NV), Michael R. McNulty (R-NY), Martin Frost (D-TX), Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), Eliot L. Engel (D-NY), Joseph Crowley (D-NY), Anthony D. Weiner (D-NY), Shelia Jackson-Lee (D-TX), Adam B. Schiff (D-CA), Rob Simmons (R-CT), Steven R. Rothman (D-NJ), Tom Lantos (D-CA), Nita M. Lowey (D-NY), Dennis J. Kucinich (D-OH), John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), Barney Frank (D-MA), Mike Ferguson (R-NJ), Jim Saxton (R-NJ), Edolphus Towns (D-NY), Robert E. Andrews (D-NJ), Frank R. Wolf (R-VA), Maurice D. Hinchey (D-NY), Mark E. Sounder (R-IN), Steve Israel (D-NY), Jon C. Porter (R-NV), Janice D. Schakowsky (D-IL), Scott Garrett (R-NJ), Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ), Howard L. Berman (D-CA), Peter T. King (R-NY), Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), Henry A. Waxman (D-CA), Thaddeus G. McCotter (R-MI), Robert Wexler (D-FL), Katherine Harris (R-FL), Peter Deutsch (D-FL), Bart Gordon (D-TN)