Mostafa Albulghaith ALbalghiti's letter {Free for All, Feb. 6} concerning Jews from Arab countries must not go unchallenged.

ALbalghiti asserts that "the Jews' departure from . . . North Africa, after centuries of peaceful . . . coexistence with Arabs, was caused by Zionist European Jews who mounted propaganda campaigns of lies and distortions in the 1950s to scare them into emigrating to the newly established Jewish state. . . . "

Not quite. For example, take Libya. Jews had lived there since the Phoenician period. In 1945, three years before Israel's creation, rioters launched a pogrom against the 39,000-member Jewish community, with drastic consequences: 130 Jewish dead, 450 injured, 4,000 homeless, and synagogues and Jewish-owned shops destroyed. Three years later, provoked by Tunisian volunteers passing through Libya to the Palestine war front, mobs again attacked the Jewish quarters. Better Jewish security limited this pogrom's damage to 15 dead. Add the fear of Arab nationalism from the granting of Libyan independence in late 1951 and joy over Israel's establishment to help understand why, by 1952, all but 6,000 of Libya's Jews had departed for Israel.

Those Jews remaining in Libya believed in the good will of King Idris I and trusted the 1951 constitution, drafted under U.N. supervision, which accorded full rights to minorities. Yet 10 years later, Jews could not vote or hold public office, obtain Libyan passports or supervise their own communal affairs. And during the 1967 Six Day War, 18 Libyan Jews were killed in mob violence. The Jews who still remained in the country, including my wife, then a teen-ager, and her family, were encouraged to leave by a government that could not guarantee their safety. Each departing Jew was permitted to take one suitcase and the equivalent of $50.

This pattern -- pogroms, second-class citizenship, uncertainty about the future -- has been repeated in Iraq, Syria, Egypt and several other Moslem countries, compelling Jews to leave in large numbers. This is the other side of the Palestinian refugee problem. Any final resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict, including indemnification for Palestinian refugees who lost property because of Israel's creation, also must take into account the property claims of hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from Moslem lands. U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 buttresses this claim by asserting "the necessity for achieving a just settlement of the refugee problem."

ALbalghiti's Morocco is the exception, not the rule. Yes, Moslem-Jewish relations are much better than in almost any other Islamic country. Moreover, King Haussan's moderate stance on the Arab-Israeli conflict, including his promotion of early Israeli-Egyptian contacts in the 1970s and reception of Prime Minister Shimon Peres in 1986, provides a welcome alternative to Arab rejectionism. But there have been problems.

Jewish apprehension first manifested itself prior to Moroccan independence from the French in 1956. Tens of thousands of Jews, uncertain about the future under local rule, departed. Emigration was then restricted. When restrictions were lifted, more than 100,000 Jews left between 1961 and 1964.

ALbalghiti writes that "after the 1967 war, some Jews in Morocco were reported to have celebrated the Arabs' defeat. These reports caused tensions, broke countless friendships and caused many but not all of the remaining Jews to emigrate in the following few years. . . . " In fact, history records other events. According to a UPI report (June 12, 1967), two Jewish youths were murdered, their throats slit by a Meknes mob as they were leaving a cafe'. Another Jew was critically wounded in Rabat, and yet another was assaulted in Casablanca. While King Hassan quickly denounced these anti-Jewish acts and fired the Meknes police commissioner, Jews understandably were anxious, all the more so given the dissemination of virulent anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist propaganda by the anti-regime Istiqlal Party.

Even in such relatively moderate countries as Morocco and Tunisia, without the stability ensured by democratic process, and with the apprehension generated by growing radicalization and fundamentalism in much of the Moslem world, it is not surprising that many Jews might seek refuge in such countries as Israel and France, which have offered much greater long-term prospects for Jewish normalcy and security.

-- David A. Harris The writer is the Washington representative of the American Jewish Committee.