Jewish refugees from Arab countries
Jewish refugees from Arab countriesIsrael news photo

The Knesset has passed an initial reading of a proposal, stipulating that negotiations on Arab refugees must include demands for compensation of Jewish refugees from Arab countries.

Hundreds of thousands of Jews from Arab countries made Aliyah [immigration] to Israel in its early years, after being banished and forced to leave behind property and asset worth billions of dollars.  A legislative proposal on the issue by Knesset Member Nissim Zev (Shas) passed its preliminary Knesset reading on Sunday.

The bill stipulates that in any negotiations with the Palestinian Authority on the rights of Arabs who left Israel in 1948, the government of Israel would be required to present its own demands for reparations for the Jews of Arab countries.

Echoing a Congressional Resolution

MK Zev says his proposal is anchored in both a United Nations resolution and the U.S. Congress. “The Jews from Arab countries are defined as refugees by the United Nations,” he emphasized. “It’s not something we made up, but rather a U.N. definition. In addition, the American Congress itself resolved, in 2008, that the rights of these Jewish refugees must be recognized in the course of the negotiations.”

The resolution, passed by the House of Representatives in April 2008, recognized Jewish refugees from Arab countries who were forced to flee their homes in the aftermath of the creation of the State of Israel. It requires U.S. officials involved in any Middle East peace negotiations that deal with the Arab refugees to "also include a similarly explicit reference to the resolution of the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab countries."

More Jewish Refugees than Arabs

One Congressional co-sponsor said at the time that “it’s not just the Arabs and Palestinians in the Middle East, but also Jewish people who themselves were dispossessed of their possessions and their homes, and were victims of terrorist acts.” Another said there were more Jewish refugees than Palestinian refugees, and “their forced exile from Arab lands must not be omitted from public discussion on the peace process."

The American Sephardi Federation reports as follows:

“The expulsion and exodus of over 850,000 Jews from Arab countries is among the most significant yet little known injustices against humanity of the past century… Between the 1940s and 1980s, the Jews of Arab countries endured humiliation, discrimination, human rights abuses, organized persecution and expulsion by the governments of the countries of their origin. During this time, Jewish property was seized without compensation, Jewish quarters were sacked and looted, and cemeteries were desecrated. Synagogues, Jewish shops, schools and houses were ransacked, burned and destroyed, and hundreds of Jews were murdered in anti-Semitic riots and pogroms. Of the over 850,000 Jewish refugees who left Arab countries, approximately 600,000 sought refuge in the State of Israel and were resettled there at great expense. Arab states have refused to acknowledge these human rights violations and provide relief to the hundreds of thousands of Jews who were forced to abandon their homes, businesses and possessions as they fled those countries.”

MK Zev said that his mother remembers that in 1941, “180 Jews were slaughtered in Baghdad, and the Jews, including my uncles and other relatives, left behind property worth millions. So it has just disappeared? In many countries, their citizenship was revoked, their bank accounts confiscated, and the money used to finance the war against Israel. Other laws stipulated that Zionism was a crime and the property of activist Zionists was confiscated.”

The proposal has the support of the government. “Prime Minister Netanyahu did not agree with the original proposal,” MK Zev said, “that would make any future peace agreement contingent upon reparations for the Jews from Arab countries. So we toned it down, and required only that the issue must be raised during the negotiations.”

“It’s about time that the Government of Israel, as well, reach the same conclusion reached by the U.N. and Congress, and demand these reparations,” Zev said.