Pallone Says New Iraqi Government Should Not Exclude Jewish Refugees from Returning

Mar 1, 2004

Washington, D.C. --- In response to recent press reports stating that members of the Iraqi Governing Council plan to prevent tens of thousands of Iraqi Jews from returning to their homeland, U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) today urged Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III, Administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority, to work with the council to ensure Jewish refugees can reclaim their citizenship.

The New Jersey congressman sent a letter to Ambassador Bremer today expressing serious concerns that Iraqi Jews, who were forced to flee in the 1930's and 1950's, are the only minority group that would not be allowed to return to Iraq and reclaim their citizenship. Muhammad Bahaddin Saladin, a member of the Iraqi Governing Council, was quoted in yesterday's New York Times as saying: "My feeling is, as long as the Palestinian problem exists, as long as there is a state of war, then we should not allow the Jews to return." The news report also states that while Jews are not specifically mentioned in proposed legislation that was approved last year, the proposal does contain language that would continue the nation's policy in place since the 1950's rescinding Iraqi Jews' citizenship.

"Now that democracy comes to Iraq, it's simply unacceptable to prevent tens of thousands of Jews from returning to their Iraqi homeland," Pallone wrote in his letter to Ambassador Bremer. "This is just one further injustice to a community that has faced such discrimination and hardship."

Pallone is one of the lead sponsors of bipartisan legislation introduced in the House last year that would recognize the plight of more than 900,000 Jewish refugees that were forced to flee Arab countries. In his letter to Bremer, Pallone wrote even though Israel chose to absorb and assimilate many of these refugees does not lessen the fact that they were all expelled or otherwise compelled to leave their homelands.

"I strongly urge you to work with the Iraqi Governing Council to ensure that the Iraqi Jewish community will be permitted to return to Iraq and reclaim their citizenship. This is a unique opportunity for a newly democratic Arab nation to set a positive example for the region and show that Arabs and Jews can peacefully coexist," Pallone concluded.

The Iraqi Jewish community, which can trace its Iraqi origins back to the sixth century B.C., is one of the oldest and most celebrated Jewish communities. Throughout much of Iraq's history, the Jews peacefully co-existed alongside the Arab community and were an integral part of Iraqi society. However, following the end of the British mandate in the 1930's, Jews faced harsh discrimination and rules regarding their place and function in Iraqi society. As anti-Semitism spread throughout the Arab world and following the establishment of the state of Israel, violence against the Jews increased and the community was left with no choice but to flee their homeland. These Iraqi refugees were forced to leave behind all their personal possessions, as well as thousands of years of Jewish heritage.

Today, the Iraqi Governing Council agreed to the draft of an interim constitution, which should be signed on Wednesday. Administrator Bremer must then approve the final document.