The state comptroller made history in his annual report when he published for the first time in Israel a special chapter on the failures of Israeli governments in restitution of Jewish property from the Holocaust era.
The value of the property is estimated in the report at $212-673 billion at 2010 prices, and another 25% to 30% in today’s prices. This is the greatest material issue among the two that remain open from the Holocaust era. The second is the “missing third” in the reparation’s agreement, East Germany’s historic obligation to Israel.
According to the findings of the state comptroller, the state treatment of the first issue, the restitution of property, was characterized by lack of interest and lack of professionalism. The result: a resounding failure. The second issue, Germany’s obligation to Israel, was characterized by helplessness and inaction, and is pending before the High Court of Justice.
The auditor’s review contains a very harsh criticism of the Israeli government, especially the Ministry of Social Equality, which has been responsible for restitution of Jewish property for about a decade and a half, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The dire findings necessitate the establishment of a state commission of inquiry. It should be established according to the authority of the State Audit Committee in the Knesset.
The report that was compiled following a complaint filed with the State Comptroller’s Office, revealed that the Ministry of Social Equality handed over the handling of the issue to an external consultant. The Foreign Ministry contented itself with imposing responsibility for the issue on only one employee, with zero budgets.
The auditor found a series of serious omissions in the conduct – if you can call it that – the Ministry of Social Equality: lack of detailed work plans for restitution of looted Jewish property, without convening a committee meeting of director’s general for an exhaustive discussion, lack of updating the property value estimate, and avoiding contacting the custodian-general in the Ministry of Justice, authorized to restitute the property of the citizens of the state.
The Ministry of Social Equality will now do the right thing if it transfers to the custodian-general not only the treatment of restitution of private property – a basic human right in the enlightened world – but the entire treatment of restitution of property looted from the Jewish people during and after World War II.
The custodian-general concentrates the powers, knowledge, abilities, means and clout to address the issue with all the national weight it deserves – including the revival of the ministerial committee existing now only on paper.
Equally serious, however, East Germany’s unpaid share in the 1952 reparations agreement between Israel and Germany was completely neglected by Israeli governments. The value of this remaining portion, the “missing third,” is estimated at no less than $17 billion.
The petition of twenty organizations, Holocaust survivors, and second-generation was recently submitted to the High Court, led by Adv. Gilad Sher, who is asking the High Court of Justice to order the government to act to obtain the missing third. The hearing in the petition is scheduled for about two months before the panel headed by the court’s president Esther Hayut, and Justices Barak-Erez and Mintz.
The State Comptroller’s report on the failures of the Israeli government in regard with the plundered Jewish property in the Holocaust, against the background of new injustices taking place in the world, reminds us all that the old injustices should not be forgotten until a fair and just solution is found.
The writer served as senior adviser for restoration of Jewish property in the Prime Minister’s Office and senior director of the Department for Restitution of Jewish Property in the Ministry of Senior Citizens (Social Equality).