It was a historic moment in the Knesset recently when a bill to secure rights and redress for Jewish refugees from Arab countries passed its preliminary reading with an overwhelming majority.
Forty-nine Knesset members voted in favour. Five MKs - all Arab - voted against.
The Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC) office in Israel, which was instrumental in lobbying for the bill, commented: "One day we will try to convince them (the Arab MKs) that this Act will promote peace by demanding compensation for all refugees from the conflict through an international fund, as outlined by President Clinton."
The Deputy Finance Minister, Yitzhak Cohen, was determined to salvage the bill after it was rejected by a Ministerial Committee on Legislation. Others who pressed hard for the bill to be introduced were Minister Moshe Kahlon and MK Nissim Zeev. Many others worked behind the scenes.
But the JJAC Israel office cautioned: " we must not rest on our laurels. It's a long road ahead: the bill must pass through the committee stage before it is approved by the Knesset and becomes law."
JJAC's New York Headquarters has issued the following press release:
"New York, NY - (November 4, 2009) In a significant development, the Israeli Knesset has given approval to a law, supported by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to secure rights and redress for Jews displaced from Arab countries.
"The law was first introduced by Member of Knesset Nessim Ze'ev (Shas) and was strongly promoted at the Committee of Ministers by Minister of Communications, Moshe Kahlon (Likud) and Deputy Finance Minister, Yitzhak Cohen (Shas).
"The law was adopted for further action by a Knesset vote of 49 in favor and 5 against-all of whom represented Arab parties. Before its introduction in the Knesset, the bill was vetted by a committee of Ministers of the governing coalition, meaning that this law, as it makes its way through the Knesset, will have the full support of all the participating political parties which make up the present government.
"After its adoption, the bill was referred to a Knesset committee for review, following which the process for adoption calls for three readings before the Knesset.
"This matter was spearheaded by Israeli representatives of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC), with the full participation of the leadership of the Mizrahi-Sephardi communities in Israel.
"Stanley Urman, Executive Vice-President of JJAC, stated "This is the first step in what we hope will be an expeditious and successful adoption of this law. The world must realize that Palestinians were not the only Middle-East refugees; that there were Jewish refugees who also have rights under international law. This recognition is good for the State of Israel and it is good for the people of Israel."
"Members of the public are encouraged to contact members of the Knesset and urge them to support this bill when it comes before them for consideration."
Full text of the bill (with thanks: Iraqijews)
Bill of MK Nissim Zeev
F / 1154/18
A bill regarding compensation of Jewish refugees from Arab countries within the framework of the peace process, Edition -2009
The purpose of this law is to protect the rights of Jewish citizens of Israel who immigrated to Israel from Arab countries and left their homes and property following the establishment of Israel and are defined as refugees under the UN Refugee Convention. (1951 UN Refugee Convention)
2. In this Law:
"Jewish refugees from Arab countries" - these are citizens of Israel and Jews who immigrated to Israel from Arab lands following the establishment of Israel, leaving property owned in the country of origin and defined as refugees under the UN Refugee Convention.
Signing a political agreement:
3.(A) The Government of Israel will not sign, directly or through its representatives, any treaty or agreement of any kind with a country, body or authority, regarding a political settlement in the Middle East without securing the rights of Jewish refugees from Arab countries, according to the UN refugee Convention.
(B) in any discussion about the Palestinian refugees as part of peace negotiations in the Middle East, the Israeli government will discuss the issue of awarding compensation for loss of property and providing equal status to Jewish refugees from Arab countries with Arab refugees who left their property after statehood.
(C) The Government will define in a precise manner the property that will be introduced into the framework of discussions as stated in (b) above.
*According to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (rights of indigenous people), the state has the obligation to compensate indigenous lands and cultural, religious and spiritual assets they had lost in the past; the principle is the only answer to the Palestinian claim "right of return" and is the appropriate compensation according to UN indigenous rights.
It is proposed that the Government will act according to UN resolutions on appropriate redress and compensation for the million and a half Jews who were expelled or fled and were forced to leave their homes and property in Arab countries since the founding of the state.
*The U.S. Congress passed a resolution (HRES 185 EH) in February 2008 ruled that Jews who were expelled or fled their homes in the Middle East are defined as refugees under the explicit definition of the UN Refugee Convention. It was also stipulated that the United States had an obligation to demand that talks on Middle East Peace Process granted the same status to refugees of all religions, including Jews and Christians as that given to Palestinian refugees, and in fact states that the U.S. recognizes the principle of equal treatment for all victims of the Israeli - Arab conflict.
* Government resolution dated 28 December 2003 (1250) renewed the government's decision (34) dated March 3, 2003 2002. 3. 3 entitled "Registration of claims of Jews from Arab Countries", a decision that renewed government decision no. 34 categories of September 28, 1969.
"1) The State of Israel will concentrate on the handling of claims and registration rights of the Jews who left Arab countries as refugees, in this country and abroad, with home and foreign affairs officials, various organizations, involvement in Jewish communities, Jewish Agency officials abroad, with the help of various Jewish organizations working with them, as necessary. "
An essentially similar bill was introduced into the seventeenth Knesset by MK Nissim Zeev (P / 4017/17).