Discussions with Libya on lost Jewish assets fail

The honeymoon between Libya and the Jews seems to be over now that Colonel Gaddafi has not fulfilled his promises to compensate them for their lost property, according to Nathan Guttman writing in The Forward.

“A year after the White House dropped all sanctions against Libya, relations with the African nation are once again becoming a sore subject, with Congress and Jewish groups both calling for new punitive measures against the government of Muammar el-Qaddafi.

“Last week, the Senate approved a measure that cut all funding for the construction of a new American embassy in Tripoli. A few days earlier, B’nai B’rith International had led opposition to Libya’s nomination to head the planning committee for the United Nations anti-racism conference, scheduled for 2009.

“Libya was first invited back into the good graces of the Western world in 2003, when Qaddafi agreed to end his nation’s nuclear program and strengthen relations with the West. The Libyan regime made particularly notable overtures toward Israel and the extensive community of Jewish refugees from Libya. (…)

“The rapprochement was presented in Washington as a model for ties with the Arab and Muslim world. But the hostile messages from the Senate and from Jewish groups suggest the degree to which the model has faltered.

“A separate prong in Libya’s warming relations with the West came during discussion with Jewish groups. In 2003, Jews of Libyan origin were invited to meetings with Libyan officials in which they were told of Qaddafi’s wish to see them return to their country and to build a new and promising relationship.

“A year and a half ago, the Libyan leader openly declared that he would be willing to discuss compensation for private and communal property that belonged to Jews in Libya. Yet as time passed, the discussions turned out to be fruitless and the forums were all but dissolved. Other discussions, regarding requests for preservation of Jewish heritage sites in Libya and commemorating the pogroms against the country’s Jews, also reached no conclusion.

“We are far from reaching our goals,” Stanley Urman said. Urman, executive director of Justice for Jews From Arab Countries, which is an advocacy group working for recognition and compensation for Jewish refugees, believes that the difficulties in resolving the issues relating to Libyan Jews reflect the larger political problems between Libya and the West.

“According to one Jewish official, who requested anonymity, the Libyans saw ties with the Jewish community as a way to improve their image in Washington, but as the formal ties with the United States have soured, the interest in the Jewish case also has declined.

“The latest cause for difficulties is the United Nations anti-racism conference. Libya was named to lead the planning for the conference, which has traditionally been a stage for criticizing Israel.

“While Libya initially showed signs of openness to Israel, little materialized on this front, and today Israelis would not be able to enter Libya if the conference were held there.

“B’nai B’rith International harshly criticized the decision to give Libya planning responsibilities.

“With its historic anti-Zionist agenda and poor human rights record, we question why Libya would be given the lead responsibility for planning the 2009 conference,” the B’nai B’rith statement reads.

“Sybil Kessler, the organization’s director of U.N. affairs, said that “Libya’s performance as chair of the preparatory committee can be a good indicator of how serious they are in showing moderation.”

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