New Gov’t Study: Iran, Arab Countries Owe Jews $150B

YERUSHALAYIM -
Jewish Yemenite immigrants arriving at Ben Gurion Airport. (Moshe Shai/Flash90, File)

Jews who immigrated to Israel from Arab and Muslim countries in the early days of the state were forced to leave their wealth behind, and a new government study has determined that those assets were worth no less than $150 billion, a report in Yisrael Hayom said. The figure is based on an in-depth study directed by the Civil Rights Ministry, headed by Gila Gamliel, which for the past three years has researched the matter in order to come up with as accurate a figure as possible.

Gamliel is set to officially present the report to the government in the coming weeks, Gamliel said. “This is nothing less than the beginning of a correction of an injustice of historical proportions,” Gamliel was quoted as saying. “We will now be able to restore the property and wealth of hundreds of thousands of Jews, as part of the narrative of how a small state absorbed so many people after they were turned into penniless refugees.”

With most countries recognizing the status of Palestinian refugees – referring to Arabs who fled their villages in Israel in advance of the Arab invasion of 1948, anticipating a quick return – many in the Sephardic and Mizrachi communities have advocated that the government speak to their status as refugees as well. In 2010, a law was passed that required all negotiations on compensation to Palestinians or concessions of land to include demands for compensation of Jews who were thrown out of Arab and Muslim lands. Until now, there has not been a reliable figure upon which to base those compensation demands.

It is estimated that some 850,000 Jews left, or were forced to leave, Arab and Muslim countries between 1948 and 1967, with the large majority – some 600,000 – coming to live in Israel, and the rest heading for the United States or Europe. Most of those were forced to leave Arab countries in the years after the establishment of the state.

The study breaks down the value of assets and population numbers for several of the countries, with assets including land, homes, savings and businesses. Over 100,000 Jews lived in Iran, with assets of $31.3 billion; there were 38,000 Jews in Libya, who were stripped of $6.7 billion in assets; Yemen had 55,000 Jews, who had $2.6 billion in assets; neighboring Aden had a community of 8,000 Jews, with $700 million in assets; and in Syria, 30,000 Jews forced to leave the country left behind $1.4 billion in assets.

Several efforts were made by refugee families in the 1960s to bring legal action against the governments responsible for their losses, and the Justice Ministry at the time prepared legal briefs and documents for use in international courts. Those cases were never advanced, however, and the matter was more or less ignored until 2002, when the government began discussing compensation issues. But it was only in 2017 that an official policy was formulated, with the study a central pillar of the case Israel plans to make in international forums.

“When I began to deal with this issue, I was shocked that there had been no real progress made on it for years, and the matter was mostly ignored,” Gamliel said. “This would have been an important study at any time, but especially now, when peace plans like President Trump’s ‘deal of the century’ are hovering in the air, with all the political issues that the plan will entail,” she added.