The Knesset committee which introduced the bill to safeguard the rights of Jewish refugees from Arab countries - a groundbreaking measure which passed its first reading last month - is convening this morning. The bill's passage is by no means secure, having met opposition from those who see it as an obstacle to peace. Meanwhile, Il Foglio, the right-of-centre Milan daily, is one of the first national European newspapers to give the story in-depth coverage. Here are extracts translated from the Italian (with thanks: Eliyahu):
"The law, which in November was approved by a large majority at first reading, would require the government to raise the issue of Jewish refugees in any future peace talks. Initially, the draft required the recognition of the rights of refugees as a condition for signing a peace agreement, but its instigator, Nissim Zeev, had to amend the text, which would have tied the government's hands and stilted negotiations.
"Zeev does not hide the political implications of the proposal, which aims to balance the claims of Palestinian refugees. These claim the so-called "right of return" to homes abandoned in 1948 during the conflict which marked the birth of the state of Israel.
"Negotiations cannot be one-way," Zeev told us. "The Palestinians demand billions of dollars from Israel, but we are the ones who have lost everything." "The MK is a member of the Orthodox Shas party, whose electorate is made up primarily of Jews who fled Arab countries, now about 40 percent of the Israeli population. His family fled Baghdad for what was then Palestine under British mandate after the riots that accompanied the anti-Semitic pro-Nazi coup in Iraq in 1941.
"Although they had experienced them throughout the twentieth century, the attacks against Jews in the Arab world peaked between 1948 and the Six Day War of 1967.
"Those decades saw Jews disappear or be reduced to a few dozen members of communities predating Muhammad by centuries. The degree and type of persecution varied: they could include popular uprisings and terrorist attacks, arrests on charges of espionage followed by show trials and public executions, and laws that took away citizenship from Jews and limited their rights.
"Where governments did try to stem the popular fury and discrimination, a few thousand Jews still survive - one example is Morocco, which has seen high emigration. But from Egypt, Syria, Iraq and other countries Jews are completely gone, fleeing in their tens of thousands on clandestine desert journeys or in airlifts to Israel, Europe and the United States.
"In October the U.S. State Department revealed that it had secretly taken out sixty Jews from Yemen. About 300 remain, threatened by Shi'ite rebels in the north. The rescue was a mini "Magic carpet," operation which took nearly 50 thousand people from Yemen to Israel between 1949 and 1950.
"In 1967 Italy took in 6,000 of the last Jews of Libya. Liliana Fadlun remembers the end of the community of Tripoli. She was at the mercy of a mob galvanized by the first propaganda Arab victory reports after the Six Day War and then angry at the news of their defeat. "They shouted, they burned everything, shops, synagogues. '">For years I dreamed of these crowds of screaming Arabs, " says Fadlun, who now lives in Rome. Her husband, Rahmin Buhnik, said Libyan law prohibited the Jews from leaving the country.
"If there was a Jew in the street they would have killed him," recalls Buhnik. "We spent a month locked up at home, almost without food."
"Diplomatic pressure finally convinced King Idris to allow Jews to leave Libya "temporarily", allowing them to carry a suitcase and 20 pounds apiece. "Of Buhnik's flourishing construction and import-export business nothing remains. "You only hear about the Palestinians.It's only fair that we should also put our history on the negotiating table, "says Fadlun about the proposed Israeli law.
"In Arab countries, the exodus of the Jews is generally considered the result of lobbying by Zionist agents. But the Jewish state and the exiles themselves speak little of it, partly out of deference to the victims of the even more terrible Holocaust tragedy.
"The United States Congress has pre-empted Israel by approving a 2008 resolution that supports the rights of Jewish refugees. WOJAC, the world organisation of Jews from Arab countries, with its headquarters in New York, estimates that confiscated property is worth billions of dollars and that land would amount to 100 thousand square kilometers, nearly five times the area of Israel.
"According Heskel Haddad, president of the association, there is little hope of obtaining compensation and the real purpose of these legislative initiatives is to persuade Arab countries to give citizenship to Palestinian refugees who were born or have lived for decades in their territory.
"I really do not want the Palestinian refugees to return to their homes, they just want to have a recognized status," says Haddad. "If the Arab countries agreed to give them citizenship it would be a major step for peace."
Read article in full (subscription required)