Opinion |

The Jewish Absentee Property Law

B. Michael
B. Michael
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Palestinians in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem, earlier this month.
Palestinians in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem, earlier this month.Credit: Emil Salman
B. Michael
B. Michael

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid is very angry. The Poles are aggravating him. They’ve passed a law making it impossible for Jews to sue for property that they left behind in Poland during World War II. The new law states that claims that have not been resolved in the past 30 years will be erased. They will evaporate. It will be as if they’d never been made. And all the Jews will be able to do is dream of their property at night. They won’t see a penny. Or, as the Polish prime minister so crudely put it, “Neither zloty, nor euro, nor dollar.”

It’s no wonder that the foreign minister is furious. He tweeted that he would not let this pass. “This law is immoral. … No law will change history. This is a disgrace that will not erase the horrors …” he wrote.

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Fighting words. Is it conceivable that innocent victims of war, deprived of their property, uprooted from their lands, murdered or forced to flee by the skin of their teeth, not be allowed to reclaim what belongs to them? That all their property will be seized and given to strangers? This is inconceivable evil. Only despicable people and contemptible nations would do such a thing.

And yet, anyone who listens carefully to the foreign minister’s emotional remarks will be able to detect a paper-thin tone of shining hypocrisy and a trace of pious self-pity. And out of the honorable minister’s angry tangle of words will emerge words that he never planned to utter: “Sheikh Jarrah … Sheikh Jarrah … Talbieh, Baka, Sheikh Munis, Ikrit, Biram, Abu Kabir, Deir Yassin, Tantura, Dawayima, Acre, Lod, Malha, Menashiya, Lifta, Ajami, Summayl … and many more villages and cities, fields and houses, estates and gardens, cemeteries and mosques, that will never be returned to their owners.

Because Israel, the country in which the foreign minister is also the alternate prime minister, has for 71 years operated under a “Polish law” of its own. It’s called the Absentees’ Property Law, and it allows the state to legally steal all the assets of war victims. Our law is also more sophisticated than the primitive Polish law. Because in our country even people who are present can be considered “absent” for the purpose of stealing his property.

The Polish legislators could have saved themselves a lot of trouble if they’d simply copied the wording of the Absentees’ Property Law, and thus allowed themselves to continue to hold the huge Jewish haul that fell into their hands courtesy of the Nazi regime. And when Israel would protest angrily, the Polish prime minister could have saved himself some stupid remarks, and sufficed with, “Look who’s talking.”

But even a foreign minister deserves the presumption of innocence. Perhaps he wasn’t aware of the Absentees’ Property Law, and that’s why he got into trouble. Fortunately, this very week an opportunity presented itself to correct the injustice somewhat, to demonstrate our moral superiority and come out looking fairly righteous.

All he has to do is recruit his obedient faction to oppose the expulsion of the residents of Sheikh Jarrah from their homes, work to speedily evict the thieves who are trespassing on lands belonging to the villages of Beita, Qabalan and Yatma (which the thieves refer to as “Evyatar”), and do everything to prevent the extension of the 18-year-old “temporary” provision of the Citizenship and Entry to Israel Law, which is racist, shameful and 70 times more foul than the Polish law.

And if he doesn’t do all this, then he should at least stop complaining about the Poles. It’s embarrassing.

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