Monday, September 04, 2017

MK Berko tells Greenblatt: give us compensation

How much does Donald Trump know about Jewish refugees from Arab lands? Whenever a new administration takes over at the White House, advocates for the rights of Jewish refugees from Arab lands ask themselves that question. For them, it is imperative that the issue of Jewish refugees be included on the agenda of Middle East peace talks.

Thankfully, one Knesset MK has taken up the cudgels in this field. Anat Berko, whose family were forced to flee their large Baghdad house and abandon their comfortable lifestyle, spoke at the UN to Jason Greenblatt, the president's legal adviser and special envoy to the Middle East. Giving him a photo of her mother standing outside the large family abode in Baghdad, she  told him that 800,000 Jews had to flee Arab countries, leaving behind their property and assets. They had received no compensation, while the Palestinian refugees get billions. Ms Berko published an article on 15 July reporting what she told Jason Greenblatt in a French newspaper, Causeur. (In June Prime Minister Netanyahu called for UNWRA, the main agency for Palestinian  refugees, to be dismantled).

Left: Anat Berko MK at her July meeting with (centre) Levana Zamir and members of the umbrella body representing organisations of Jews from Arab countries in Israel.

Earlier in July Ms Berko had been asked to 'push' the issue of Jewish refugees at the Knesset by the Merkaz Irgunim Coalition of Organisations of Jews from Arab and Islamic Countries. Board members of this umbrella body, led by Mrs Levana Zamir, had requested a meeting with Ms Berko. (The MK had already declared her interest in the subject on 13 July 2016, when she stated  at a formal session at the Knesset that the International Fund must  be established without waiting for a Peace agreement.)

Anat Berko's mother as a child, standing with her own mother outside the family home in Alawiyya, Baghdad

The day after her meeting with the Merkaz Irgunim, MK Anat Berko addressed the Knesset, saying that an International Fund must be established in place of UNRWA to compensate refugees, as suggested by Bill Clinton in July 2000. She added that compensating the two groups of refugees, will end, once for all, the impossible  demand of the Palestinian "right of return". The minister of Agriculture, Uri Uriel, replied that he had written to prime Minister Netanyahu requesting that the question of the International Fund be raised at the peace talks.

Levana Zamir is delighted with these developments: " As you can see, Israel is finally serious about establishing the so-called Clinton International Fund, without waiting for a peace agreement," she told Point of No Return.

The previous campaign to include the history and heritage of Jews from Arab countries into the Israeli school curriculum is at last bearing fruit. The Merkaz Irgunim will now shift its efforts to promoting the idea of the International Fund, aiming to compensate both groups of refugees - Palestinians as well as Jews from Arab countries. 

'This is a tool for peace," she said.

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