Update: The Iraqi newspaper Azzaman is now quoting Behar’s statement to support its assertion that Iraqi Jews are refusing to be party to ‘the file of the Palestinian refugees’.
Ever since last week’s official launch by Israel’s Foreign ministry and the World Jewish Congress of the campaign for recognition and redress for Jewish refugees from Arab countries, it won’t have escaped your notice, dear reader, that Arab and anti-Zionist writers have been falling over themselves to find reasons why the campaign is a bad idea.
The latest salvo of criticism comes from the newly-formed Committee of Baghdadi Jews in Ramat Gan, of which Almog Behar, a young leftist Mizrahi poet, is a founder member. Needless to say, his pronouncements are grist to the anti-Zionist and Israel-bashing mill, and a statement on his Facebook page has already been eagerly seized upon by Electronic Intifada and Mondoweiss.
“The way the Israeli establishment uses our history from the 1950s is not in order to give us our rights back, but in order to get rid of the rights of the Palestinians, and avoid a peace agreement with them,” Behar wrote to the Electronic Intifada.” We are seeking to demand compensation for our lost property and assets from the Iraqi government -NOT from the Palestinian Authority – and we will not agree with the option that compensation for our property be offset by compensation by the lost property of others (meaning Palestinian refugees) or that said compensation be transferred to bodies that do not represent us (meaning the Israeli government).”
Hang on a minute, Almog. You haven’t been listening. Nowhere does Israel say that property compensation for Iraqi Jews will be offset by compensation for Palestinians. The current thinking is that both sets of refugees will be able to draw individual compensation from an international fund. This was an idea proposed by President Clinton at Camp David in 2000.
No one is talking about using claims by Jews from Arab countries to negate Palestinian rights. The organisationJustice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC) explicitly says : ” this is not a campaign against Palestinian refugees.”
Almog Behar’s Facebook statement continues: “our property in Iraq is something between us and Iraq and not between us and the Palestinians, and remembers also that most Palestinian property from 1948 was taken by the Ashkenazim and the state and not by Jews of the Arab world.”
Dream on, Almog. When the US set up the Iraqi Property Claims Commission after the invasion of 2003 to pay compensation to those whose property had been seized in Iraq, the property seized from Iraqi Jews in the 1950s (when the great exodus took place) was specifically excluded. As for Palestinian property being taken by Ashkenazim, how does Behar know? Has he done a survey? His statement certainly contradicts the fact that such was the housing shortage in Israel in the 1950s that a fair number ofpoor Mizrahimwere moved into abandoned Arab homes.
Behar’s Facebook statement then dredges up two old chestnuts from the 1950s: one is the belief that Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri as-Said cooked up a deal by which Ben-Gurion might have told Iraqi Prime minister Nuri as-Said that he is ‘authorized to take possession of the property and assets of Iraqi Jewry if he agreed to send them to Israel’.
The second is that staple of Arab propaganda accusing Israel and Mossad of the bombing of the Masouda Shem-Tov synagogue in Baghdad.
” If it is determined that Ben-Gurion did, in fact, carry out negotiations over the fate of Iraqi Jewish property and assets in 1950, and directed the Mossad to bomb the community’s synagogue in order to hasten our flight from Iraq,” Almog Behar writes,” we will file a suit in an international court demanding half of the sum total of compensation for our refugee status from the Iraqi government and half from the Israeli government.”
As for the first assertion, Almog has got it backwards – it was Nuri as-Said who premeditated the expulsion of Iraqi Jewry and their dispossession: Ben Gurion’s foreign minister Moshe Sharrett, who had for years resisted Nuri As-Said’s attempts to link the two sets of refugees, finally conceded after the Iraqi Parliament had passed a law in March 1951 freezing Jewish property, that Israel would be forced to take into account Palestinian property in a reckoning with Iraq. It is highly unlikely that Ben Gurion would have had talks with an Iraqi Prime Minister whose country had never signed the 1949 armistice agreement with Israel, and was still technically at war.
As far as the notorious bombs are concerned, this old chestnut was investigated by an Israeli court, and the Mossad operative Mordechai Ben Porat acquitted of any involvement. Point of No Return has disposed of this particular myth here.
The question remains: who are the members of this hitherto-unknown Ramat Gan Committee of Baghdadi Jews. Whom does it represent?
The Ramat Gan Committee most probably represents no-one but a handful of naive young post-Zionists. When it comes to making controversial statements on behalf of a tiny minority of radical Israelis, Almog Behar hasform. The vast majority of Iraqi Jews in Israel back the government in its initiative on refugee rights. This might as well be the Committee for the Appreciation of Zingoola (A highly-calorific desert popular among Mizrahi Jews).
Take my advice, Almog: stick to poetry.