Michael Fischbach on Jewish Property Claims and Post-Qaddafi Libya

Posted: June 12, 2012 by Rex Brynen in Israel, Jews from Arab countries, Libya

In the latest (Summer 2012) issue of Middle East Report, Michael Fischbach has an interesting piece on the question of Jewish properties that were seized in Libya by both the monarchy and the subsequent Qaddafi regime:

As Libya looks to its future, one chapter from its past already has reared its head, one that could touch on everything from finances to future relations, if any, with Israel: the fate of the country’s former Jewish popula- tion. The highly publicized return to his native land made by Rome-based Jewish psychoanalyst David Gerbi in October 2011 helped bring the question of Libyan Jews, and the fate of their property confiscated in 1970, into the open. The preceding July, Gerbi was appointed as the representative of the Israel-based World Organization of Libyan Jews (WOLJ) to the rebel Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC), headedbyMustafa‘Abdal-Jalil.GerbithentraveledtoTripoli in a bid to reopen the long-shuttered Dar al-Bishi synagogue. His presence soon prompted demonstrations and negative publicity, however, and he was forced to leave the country. But that was not the end of the matter. Will Libyan Jews in exile begin calling on the international community to help them seek compensation from the new regime for property confiscated by the government of Muammar Qaddafi? Events not only suggest that they will, but that Libyan Jews are not in agreement about the best way to go about the task. Nor do international Jewish groups and the Israeli government seem to agree.

He concludes the article by suggesting:

Beyond the specific case of Libya, the question of Jewish property claims against Arab countries generally has surfaced in recent years due to the efforts of non-governmental organiza- tions like the US-based coalition Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC). But rather than pushing to compensate Jews who were dispossessed when they left Libya and other Arab countries during and after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, these efforts have focused instead on using the claims of Jews who left the Arab world for Israel (who are described as “refugees”) as a way to counter Palestinian refugee claims—the right of return foremost among them. Groups like JJAC argue that a wide-scale Jewish-Arab population and property “exchange” has taken place in the Middle East since 1948, and that both Jews and Arabs suffered losses that must be addressed. The Israeli government came to bring this logic to a certain degree of fruition when, on April 3, 2012, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that it henceforth would campaign for international acceptance of this narrative of two refugee experiences as an important dimension of final peace talks with the Palestinians—despite the fact that the dispossession of Jews from Arab countries came at the hands of those respective governments, not the Palestinians. As the Foreign Ministry’s statement noted, “The issue of Jewish refugees should be raised in every peace negotiation framework whether it is opposite the Palestinians or Arab governments.” So while raising the profile of Libyan and other Jewish claims for property compensation, this discourse about two sets of refugee exoduses and property losses has not led to official Israeli government support for monetary compensation for aggrieved Jews from Libya.

Whether through such actions, by filing lawsuits against other frozen Libyan property in Britain and Western countries, by lobbying the US and the EU to demand movement on Jewish claims as part of future development aid, or by quiet dialogue with the new Libyan government, the world could well hear more discussion of Jewish property claims against Libya. What is less certain is how far such talk will go. Given what has occurred with similar Jewish claims against Iraq in the post-Saddam era, one should not hold one’s breath.

The article itself is gated, but you can read a pdf version of here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s