Can Jewish refugees claim hundreds of billions from Arab states?
More than 900,000 Jews and their fled from Arab countries by the mid 1960's, most of them immigrating to Israel. The property they left behind is estimated at billions of dollars, but the disintegration process most of these countries are going through doesn’t leave Mizrahi Jews much hope for compensation.
Dr. Adam Reuter
Throughout certain periods of history, the majority of the world's Jews lived in districts which are now controlled by Arab countries, but as a result of demographic changes and the immigration to Europe in the Middle Ages, only five percent of the world's Jews remained in the area at the beginning of World War II – mainly in Morocco, Iraq, Egypt and Tunisia.
The standard of living of the Jews in Cairo and in Baghdad on the eve of World War I was higher than the standard of living of Eastern European Jews, who lived in small and mostly remote towns. Their main occupations were in commerce, textile, customs, dressmaking, gold crafting, banking and finances.
At the same time, the Zionist movement evoked antagonism among the Arab residents, which increased amid the revival of nationalism. The establishment of Israel increased and intensified the anti-Semitism, leading to a rise in cases of harassment, plunder and even massacres.
Jewish refugees. Quite a few Jewish families gained a lot of capital over the generations (archive family photo)
The government of Iraq (which became an independent state in the 1950s) even nationalized Jewish businesses and much Jewish property, allegedly as "compensation" for the Palestinian refugees – but this money mainly reached the hands of senior government members.
In the early 1960s, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized Jewish property in Egypt, and the same happened to Libya's Jews. In Syria, Tunisia and Algeria, most Jews fled with only the clothes they were wearing after the declarations of independence, leaving all their property behind.
The Jews of Morocco were treated much better, and were perhaps the only ones who could leave in a relatively organized manner with their money, but in many other cases they left their homes and businesses behind.
By the mid 1960s, more than 700,000 Jews had left the Arab states, most of them immigrating to Israel.
How much Jewish property was left behind?The estimates regarding the property left by Jews in Arab states vary from one source to another and are very difficult to verify, especially as there is a need to conduct a general evaluation of the real estate left behind in today's prices.
A large portion of nationalized Jewish real estate was left, for example, in the most posh neighborhoods of Cairo, Alexandria and Baghdad. The communal property of Egypt's Jews covered huge areas, including about half of the district of Maadi (a city of villas and gardens located about 20 kilometers from Cairo, where all the luxurious houses have turned into the residences of ambassadors from various countries).
In addition, there is a need to assess the flow of income from the factories, stores and businesses that the Arab regimes (or Arab neighbors) gained control of after the Jews fled, and which remained operational for many years (in rare cases, some are still operating today). Even the most conservative assessments point to compensation of billions of dollars, which according to some estimates reaches $15-20 billion, and much more.
What is are the chances of financial compensation?One of those trying to collect as much information and possible and raise an interest among members of the veteran generation and among the children of the Israeli refugees is Dr. Edy Cohen, an expert in Middle Eastern affairs and a senior researcher at Bar-Ilan University's Department of Middle Eastern Studies.
Dr. Cohen, the son of Jewish refugees who fled Lebanon in the 1980s, managed to collect information about this aspect of the "nakba" of the Arab state's Jews as part of his studies. Through the Kedem Forum for Arabic Studies and the conferences he holds, he is trying to create a buzz regarding the need to try to get Mizrahi Jews this huge financial debt back.
But the Arab states' current disintegration process is not helping the chances of actually receiving compensation. Syria no longer exists as a state, as only 25 percent of the territory is controlled by the Assad regime and the rest is divided between the Islamic State, Jabhat al-Nusra, the national rebels and the Kurds.
The situation is similar in Iraq, where almost one-third of the territory is already controlled by ISIS. Libya has essentially been divided between a number of large tribes, and the situation in Algeria and Tunisia isn't promising either.
Of all the countries mentioned so far, the only relevant ones are Egypt and Morocco, which can allegedly afford to pay compensation. Morocco, which has a relatively stable economy, may be capable of paying damages if it has to, but Egypt – which is relying on external donations right now – won't be able to do so.
An amusing anecdote is the fact that huge Egyptian bank Misr, which has about 500 branches in Egypt and in other countries and which is owned by the Egyptian government, is now claiming ownership of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. The bank is demanding compensation for the hotel's shares, which it says were expropriated by the Israeli Administrator General in as early as 1948. The Egyptians must have forgotten that the Israeli Administrator General can claim all the assets of Jewish families in Egypt – and that even after deducting the value of the King David Hotel, it could be quite a good deal for the State of Israel.
Deduction agreement with the Palestinian property?In February 2010, the Knesset approved a law safeguarding Jewish refugees' right for compensation. The law states that "as part of negotiations for peace in the Middle East, the government will include the issue of compensating Jewish refugees from Arab states and Iran for the property they lost, including property which was owned by a Jewish community in those countries."
According to one estimate, the lost property of Palestinians who became refugees following the War of Independence amounts to about 60 percent of the property lost by Jews expelled from Arab states. In the past decades, ideas have been raised about different deduction agreements.
Dr. Adam Reuter is the chairman of the Reuter Meydan Investment House and CEO of Financial Immunities Ltd.
Mizrahi Jews deserve memorial day too
Op-ed: Excluding story of Jews from Arab states from Zionist ethos creates alienation towards Israeli society
MK Shimon Ohayon
The Talmud says that during the days of Alexander III of Macedon, the Egyptians demanded that the Jews pay damages for the gold and silverware borrowed from them before the people of Israel left Egypt, which were never returned.
No property, no respect
Surprisingly, history appears to be repeating itself in our time. The Palestinians often complain to the world's nations about the damage they suffered during the State's establishment, when they say 650,000 people were forced to flee their homes, and they are therefore demanding compensation.
What they are "forgetting," and what we should remember and remind ourselves, is that immediately after the UN resolution on the establishment of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel on November 29, 1947, Arab states – led by the Arab League – began imposing sanctions on the Jewish communities in their territories, accusing them of cooperating with the Zionist enterprise in Israel.
In some of the countries, the Arabs rioted against the Jews and plundered their property, and in other places the Jews lost their workplaces and sources of income. As a result, the Jews were forced to flee the Arab states in great poverty and leave all their property behind.
In the 20 years after the State's establishment, 850,000 Jews immigrated to Israel from Arab countries without any property and without any respect, and so glorious 2,000-year-old communities were destroyed at once.
Jewish people don't forgetIt is a tradition among the Jewish people that one must not forget. We do not forget the nations which rendered us good, and we do not forget those which hurt us. The Jewish people do not forget the injustices, even when they were carried out thousands of years ago.
We remember Amalek's attack on us at our time of weakness in the desert very well, as well as the ingratitude of Ammon and Moab who did not help the people of Israel wandering the arid desert by handing out food and water. We haven't forgotten the deeds of the Nazis either, who murdered one-third of our people in the past generation. A nation which does not remember its past, and fails to draw the necessary lessons from it, will be unsuccessful in dealing with what the future holds.
In the Knesset' previous term, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liebermanworked to advance the commemoration of the suffering of Jews from Arab states, suffering which eventually led to their immigration to Israel. In one of the conferences held on this issue, former US President Bill Clinton suggested that the future fund for compensating Palestinian refugees would also compensate the Jews forced to leave Arab states.
It appears that today too, as in the days of Alexander the Great, bringing the past of Jewish refugees from Arab countries to the surface will at once cancel the worthiness of Arab states' current claims to receive historic compensation for the damage caused to the Palestinian refugees.
Have you heard about 2nd exodus?In the current term I am working to further advance the issue by submitting a bill setting a day to commemorate the Jewish expulsions from Arab states. This bill was born during conferences in Israel and worldwide, where I heard many Jews from Arab states tell the stories of their banishment from their countries of origin.
But the stories of Jews from Arab states were shared even earlier by the organizations representing the people who came from those countries, including Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Syria, Lebanon, Morocco and Yemen. They felt that the Zionist ethos is dedicated almost entirely to the story of Europe's Jews, skipping the painful history of those who came from Arab countries.
Every Israeli child learns about the Kishinev pogrom, but has anyone heard about the Farhud in Iraq? Everyone remembers the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, but hardly anyone knows about the Zionist underground activity in Arab states. The education system teaches about the first exodus from Europe, while the second exodus – the one from Islamic countries – is missing from textbooks.
Second-class ZionistsThe exclusion of this story from the Zionist ethos has created and is still creating alienation among Jews from Arab states towards the Israeli society. It seems as though immigrants from some countries are the original Zionists, while the others only joined them later on.
The Torah commands, "Ask your father, he will tell you about it; ask your elders, they will give you the details" (Deuteronomy 32, 7), as well as "Remember this day which is the day that you came out of Egypt, out of the place you were slaves" (Exodus 13, 3). The historic collective memory builds an identity, team spirit and commitment to society.
This trend has recently been joined by the Ministry for Senior Citizens, headed by my friend, Minister Uri Orbach, which is leading the "And You Shall Tell Your Son" project, encouraging Jews from Arab states to share their personal story for the sake of the next generations.
I hope it enters the State of Israel's book of laws shortly, both for the sake of our rights in the eyes of the world, for the sake of building our national identity, and for the sake of our needs, as a society, to preserve the Zionist story as it is, with all its different components and colors.
UN hosts conference on Jewish refugees
Despite strong Arab opposition, United Nations officials and Western ambassadors attend first-of-its-kind event calling for justice for Jewish refugees who fled Arab countries
After an Arab demand to call off the event was rejected, the Arab League asked the UN Secretariat for permission to hand out press releases at the entrance to the Israeli event , but that request was turned down as well.
The Palestinian UN observer emailed reporters covering the organization on Thursday night, and attached an article published by senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi on the Huffington Post, in which she accuses Israel of cynically using the term "refugee".
The event, initiated by the Foreign Ministry and the Israeli delegation to the UN, is being broadcast live on the UN Web TV channel under the title: "The Untold Story of the Middle East: Justice for Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries."
It is attended by senior UN Secretariat officials, as well as Western ambassadors.
Deputy Foreign Minister Ayalon at UN (Photo: Shahar Azran)
Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon, who led the battle to recognize Jewish refugees, said that it was a historical event.
"Between the walls of the UN we are starting to bring justice to the Jewish refugees who were tortured, persecuted and driven away, and whose rights were revoked," he said.
Ayalon stressed that Security Council Resolution 242 discusses justice for refugees in the Middle East, thanks to the fact that then-American Ambassador to the UN Arthur Goldberg rejected a Soviet demand to include the phrase "Arab refugees" in the wording.
"We are 64 years late, but it's never too late to bring justice and discuss the historic facts," he added.
'Set the record straight'Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, said: “Israel’s detractors have spent decades infusing the courts of international public opinion with a one-sided history of the Middle East refugee problem. This will not bring justice or closure to this painful conflict.
"It is now time to set the historical, diplomatic, and legal record straight. Lasting peace can only be built on historical facts - both the issues of the Jewish refugees and the Palestinian refugees must be addressed.”
“It is time for the international community to recognize that with the birth of the Jewish state in 1948, Jews in Arab countries were persecuted, assaulted and forcibly exiled from their homes, personal and communal property confiscated and stolen.
"The world has long recognized the Palestinian refugee problem. After 60 years, the United Nations should finally recognize the 850,000 Jewish refugees who suffered during those times.
"The World Jewish Congress calls upon the Secretary General of the United Nations and all world leaders to acknowledge the truth, and place the plight of the Jewish refugees of Arab countries on the agenda together with the rights of all the refugees. Only addressing the historical facts can help bring about peace," said Lauder.
Other participants include Law Professors Irwin Cotler and Alan Dershowitz, who discussed the legal rights of Jews who escaped from Arab countries.
Ynetnews contributed to this report