Is the decision to compensate both Jews who were forced to flee from their homes in Arab nations and Palestinians who were forced to leave homes in Israel
in 1948 historically just, or just an attempt at harming peace talks?
Prof. Yehuda Shenhav from Tel Aviv University's Sociology and Anthropology Department told Ynet: "This suggestion does not surprise me. Three years ago, the Knesset quietly put into legislation a bill according to which any peace agreement with the Palestinians will include an article that classifies Jews from Arab states as refugees who fled their homelands because they had no other choice."
However, the idea of defining Jews as refugees challenges the Zionist narrative according to which Jews came to Israel from purely Zionist motives.
"This is a mess," Shenhav continues; "there are indeed Jews that fled their homes, as in the case of Egypt
in (the War of Attrition
in) 1956, but a lot of Jews came of their own volition."
Prof. Shenhav further stressed that the proposal's timing in regards to the peace process was problematic: "Israel has been cynically using 'olim' (Jewish immigrants to Israel) from Arab states to block Palestinians' right of return and claim to property.
"The truth is that there are Jews from Arab states that were expelled – and they are refugees – and there are a lot that come on their own accord – and they are not refugees. On the one hand there is a case for these Jews against the Arab states in which they lived, as long as they were expelled, as in the case of European Jewry."
Shenhav warns that "it is wrong to conflate the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab nations with the Palestinian issue. The difference is that Israel expelled the Palestinians and turned them into refugees. The comparison between Jews' immigration and Palestinians' emigration or deportation is mistaken. Israel is taking advantage of this to oppress both the Palestinians and the mizrahim (Sephardic Jews)."
Dr. Hani Zubida, a professor at the Max Stern Academic College of Emek Yezreel immigrated to Israel from Iraq in 1971. He claims to have never relinquished his family's property.
"There is a lengthy debate by which we are to agree to rescind all rights of properties in the Arab states (from which Jewish families emigrated) and in return the Palestinians will agree to give up the rights of their properties. But who will compensate me for the fact that my family's property and possession were stolen in Iraq after so many decades?
"My family and I still have our Iraqi citizenship. Life in Iraq was hard; my uncle was hanged, we were persecuted and were forced to flee before they killed all of us," he told Ynet.
Zubida adamantly opposes the comparison between the Jews of Arab nations and the Palestinians, noting that "The Palestinians deserve full compensation, and regardless, I and my family deserve compensation. We had to run away and were uprooted from our homeland. Iraq is my homeland."
He added that "No one can sign a compensation agreement with the State in my name, and if they do – we will sue. We would have to be consulted in such a process and actively involved in any future compensation."
Yael Ben Yefet, director of the Democratic Mizrahi Rainbow activism group and a councilwoman at the Tel Aviv Municipality, said that the intention to compensate Jewish immigrants from Arab nations as well as Palestinians "is complicated, but at the same time has great significance. It acknowledges the hardship and refugee-status of Jews who left Arab states, both globally and locally."
According to Ben Yefet, "For many years, the voice of Jews from Arab countries was not heard – the suffering they endured and the dire need to escape, the authorities' mistreatment and the local populations' persecution."
She added: "Other than acknowledging the fact that wrongdoing was inflicted, there is a financial aspect, and monetary compensation can improve the lives of many and reverse processes of discrimination and deprivation that have been going on for years."