Comptroller Blasts State for Neglecting Restitution of Jewish Property in Arab States

Even if peace broke out tomorrow, Israel couldn’t file a claim because it hasn’t done its homework on the assets left behind when Jews immigrated from Iran and Arab world after 1948.

Ofer Aderet
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Ofer Aderet

State Comptroller Joseph Shapira issued on Wednesday afternoon a scathing report on the state’s failure to take action toward the restoration of property that was lost when hundreds of thousands of Jews living in Iran and the Arab states came to Israel in the years after independence in 1948.

On the eve of the War of Independence around a million Jews lived in these countries. After Israel was established, around 600,000 of them immigrated to Israel over the next three decades in waves that continued in 1956 and 1967 and after the Iranian revolution in 1979. The report puts the combined value of the lost assets at “a few billion dollars.”

The report states that Israel is not working for the rights of the Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran, who were persecuted and whose property was looted before they immigrated to Israel. It is dealing with the issue lackadaisically, not paying it sufficient attention. It has not set any policy or budget, nor has it allocated resources toward researching and documenting the assets or collecting information about the rights of the Jews who came from those countries. Shapira described the situation as “bleak,” a “fiasco” that could be “a perpetual tragedy.”

In 2010, a law was passed stating that compensation for the lost property would be included in any future Arab-Israeli peace agreement. But the report shows that even if peace were to break out tomorrow morning, Israel would be hard-pressed to present a solid claim because the state does not know what property is at issue. The possible reasons for this are many and absurd: Over the years, immigrants from Iran and Arab states were instructed to fill in and submit forms aimed at enabling the coordination of both individual and communal claims. Between 1969-2009, the Justice Ministry collected around 14,000 of these, but they were never processed or entered into a computer database. Some of the records are still in the ministry’s archive, waiting to be scanned digitally, but some have deteriorated so badly as to be worthless. The retirement of a single clerk who was in charge of the material at one point but did not train her successor is thought to have led to the disappearance of still more documents connected to the issue.

The issue was first brought to government notice in 1969. The cabinet ordered a study of the lost property belonging to and the persecution of Jews from Iran and Arab states, including research on legal aspects of the case.

In 2002, the matter was taken up again. The cabinet appointed a ministerial committee and resolved to establish an advisory council. But there is still no budget, no coherent policy and cabinet resolutions on the issue remain unenforced.

Shapira wrote: “In the current situation, the information collected so far cannot be used ... to draw any conclusions about the rights of the Jews who came from Arab countries and Iran or the amount of property that was lost. The value of the property documented cannot be estimated, nor can the types of property, its whereabouts or kind of ownership be known. Without indexing and computerization, it is also difficult to estimate the quality of the collected material.”

He summed up the report by stating: “The findings show both an unsatisfactory level of commitment by the government to carry out its decisions and very little work done by the Pensioner Affairs Ministry, which the government put in charge of the subject in recent years.”

Jews from Yemen immigrate to Israel in 1949. The report puts the combined value of the lost assets at 'a few billion dollars.'Credit: Zoltan Kluger/GPO