Iraq Allows Jews To File Property Claims

By Marc Perelman

Published June 17, 2005, issue of June 17, 2005.

A new Iraqi law allowing Jews worldwide to file claims for lost property is being hailed by advocates for the rights of Jews expelled from Arab countries — but only a tiny percentage of Jews from Iraq qualify for compensation.

Justice for Jews From Arab Countries, a coalition of major Jewish organizations, praised the newly created Iraq Property Claims Commission for accepting claims from “all persons, or their heirs, who have been wrongfully deprived of real property.” They said it marked a watershed in their uphill struggle to gain recognition for the cause of an estimated 850,000 Jews who were forced to leave their Arab birthplace after the creation of Israel.

“It appears that the stage has been set for a new system of justice and the rule of law,” S. Daniel Abraham said in a statement. Abraham, the founding chairman of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, also stated, “We hope that this signals the beginning of a process to rectify historical injustices and discriminatory measures perpetrated by previous Iraqi regimes.”

Advocacy efforts have garnered support in Congress and, recently, from the Canadian prime minister. Negotiations with Libya about possible compensation are taking place.

Despite the positive response to the Iraqi commission, it appears that only a small fraction of Jews from Iraq will qualify for compensation. According to its guidelines, the commission would compensate any loss of property since the rise to power of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party in July 1968 — a period after the departure of the vast majority of Iraqi Jews, most of whom left following Israel’s founding in 1948.

An estimated 135,000 Jews lived in Iraq. After 1948, the government removed them from civil service positions and barred them from enrolling in universities, traveling or buying and selling property. As a result, more than 100,000 migrated to Israel in 1951 in airlifts known as Operation Ezra and Operation Nehemiah. In order to leave, Jews had to renounce their Iraqi citizenship. Then, in 1951, the Iraqi parliament passed a law depriving Jews who were ex-Iraqis of their property.

Stanley Urman, executive director of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, which brings together a total of 27 Jewish organizations, said: “Redress for the mass violations of human rights must apply equally to all Iraqis, irrespective of when these offenses took place; irrespective of which Iraqi regime was in power; and for all those displaced from Iraq, wherever they may now reside.”

He said that only about 5,000 Jews would qualify for compensation.

In addition, Urman said, even those who qualify will have trouble meeting the June 30 deadline for filing claims. The compensation forms were only received recently by Iraqi expatriates — and they can only be submitted in Iraq, according to the commission guidelines.

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