By Jonathan Benedek/TPS
Jerusalem (TPS) – The State of Israel is engaged in clandestine efforts to obtain restitution for the lost or stolen property of Jews who fled Arab countries after the State of Israel was founded. This was revealed in a discussion of the Knesset’s Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs on Wednesday morning.
“The expatriates from Arab countries fled, leaving their property behind,” said MK Avraham Neguise, the committee chairman. “We want to do historical justice by making sure that this property is finally restored to its owners.”
Hundreds of thousands of Jews living in Arab countries and the Middle East already faced persecution on the eve of Israel’s establishment in 1948. Once Israel declared its independence, they had to flee.
According to Avi Cohen, director general of the Social Equality Ministry, which helps funnel support to the poorer sectors in Israeli society, Israel has already been acting clandestinely to restore some of the property that belonged to hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees, investing millions of shekels to do so.
“Classified work is currently underway, in conjunction with the Foreign Ministry, in which we will invest millions to restore the property of Arab and Iranian Jewry,” Cohen said. “The work will come to fruition within four to six weeks. I cannot say more than that.”
Although Iran’s Jewish community did not face the same repercussions as Jews in Arab countries did in 1948, tens of thousands of Iranian Jews fled Iran following the Islamic Revolution in 1979.
The officials at the meeting made other suggestions regarding restitution. Opposition leader and Zionist Union chairman MK Isaac Herzog hinted that a regional agreement would give Israel an opportunity to make the issue a top priority.
“The topic was mentioned explicitly in our elections platform,” Herzog said. “If there should be movement toward a regional agreement, the topic must definitely be placed on the agenda.”
Ze’ev Ben Yosef, a member of the World Likud executive committee, was skeptical of Herzog’s idea.
“It’s problematic to link the issue of restitution to a political agreement because the other side is in no hurry to reach such an agreement,” he said.
Others who were present argued that the issue of the lost or stolen property belonging to Jews who fled Arab and Muslim countries should gain more international recognition, especially since the UN gave refugee status to Palestinians and their descendants who fled their homes during Israel’s War of Independence.
“The moment that the UN supports refugees from Arab countries, it must recognize that there are Jewish refugees,” said Eli Gabbay, a former MK of the National Religious Party. “It must be guaranteed, through a political process, that just as the UN grants funds to the Arab refugees, it will make restitution to the Jewish refugees.”
MK Anat Berko (Likud), a descendant of Jewish refugees from Iraq, echoed Gabbay’s statement. “If you want to recognize Arab refugees, you must also recognize Jewish refugees,” she said. “I, too, see myself as a daughter of Iraqi-Jewish refugees.”