Trump has paid only lip service on Holocaust restitution

Despite its impressive name, “Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act Report,” the report does not guarantee anything.

Yad Vashem Security guard stnds at the empty Hall of Names in the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum (photo credit: FLASH90)
Yad Vashem Security guard stnds at the empty Hall of Names in the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum
(photo credit: FLASH90)
The US State Department’s congressional report on the state of restitution of Jewish property from the Holocaust era is nothing but a lip service. Despite its impressive name, “Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act Report,” the report does not guarantee anything. The report scans 46 countries that signed the “Terezin Declaration” in 2009, at the conclusion of an international conference on restitution of Jewish property held in Prague. It is toothless and does not contain sanctions on a state that ignores it.
The report includes a snapshot of the restitution of Jewish property with and without heirs. Surprisingly, it also includes a snapshot of pensions and assistance to Holocaust survivors, Holocaust remembrance, and the condition of Jewish cemeteries. The report is due to be debated in a congressional plenum or by its committees in the hope that action will be taken by the states concerned. However, there is no guarantee that this will happen because President Trump did not adopt the report and did not ask Congress to discuss it.
The report is disappointing in several respects. It does not specify how much Jewish property there was in each country and how much of it has not yet been restituted and offers nothing about the continuation of the restitution process. Looted Jewish property was worth $13-15 billion in 1938 terms, which today values hundreds of billions of dollars and at most 15%-20% of it was restituted.
The focus of the report was supposed to be the restitution of Jewish property. Adding issues, as important as they are, distorted the focus of the report and diluted it. The report does not address, for example, the closure of the European Shoah Legacy Institute (ESLI) in Prague. The institute was established by a resolution of the Prague Conference mentioned above to monitor its resolutions and implement them. And the report does not suggest ways to reestablish it.
The report does not refer to the restitution of Jewish property in Germany, which contrary to popular belief, returned only a small percentage of Jewish property. Neither does it not mention the former East Germany’s share in the reparation’s agreement with Israel estimated today at $17 billion (NIS 60 billion).
Surprisingly, the report does not include the US, and it seems that this is because the US does not have a “clean slate” on the issue. The recommendations of a 2000 presidential committee set up by president Bill Clinton have not been implemented to this day; such as US leading the process of restituting Jewish property worldwide, preserving the status of the special American envoy for Holocaust affairs, the establishment of a special institute that will research and offer innovative methods for restitution of Jewish property, and preparations to address similar issues in future conflicts.
THE REPORT does not address the fact that the Israeli government is not involved in the restitution of Jewish property, as the special American envoy repeatedly complained at the time. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not raise the issue in his meetings with heads of state. During the crisis with Poland over the Polish narrative of the Holocaust, he did not instruct his envoys to negotiate with the Polish government to discuss the restitution of Jewish property. A missed opportunity.
The minister in charge of restitution, Gila Gamliel, at the time gave her hand to the closure of the European Institute of Holocaust Remembrance in Prague (ESLI) without worrying about the establishment of another institute in its place in Brussels that would continue to work for the restitution of Jewish property.
ESLI was the only body established since the Holocaust by a resolution of a multi-participant international conference. Its closure is a real omission that requires an investigation by the state comptroller. Since the American report is nothing but lip service, the moral imperative of the Holocaust imposes a doubled obligation on the Israeli government to lead the issue vigorously as long as first-generation Holocaust survivors are alive.
To this end, the issue of restitution of Jewish property must be urgently transferred from the Social Equality Ministry to the Justice Ministry, which is the only ministry with powers in the Custodian General Law to Restitute the Property of Israeli Residents Abroad, as stated by the state comptroller in his 68c annual report at 2018.
This is an opportunity that the Social Equality and the Justice ministries are in the hands of the same Blue and White Party. Since the Social Equality Ministry was empowered when the Holocaust Survivors’ Rights Authority was transferred to it from the Finance Ministry, it is politically easier to transfer restitution to the Justice Ministry. Benny Gantz, the Blue and White Party chairman, himself a second-generation Holocaust survivor, must act immediately.
The treatment of restitution of Jewish property should raise concern in the hearts of every Holocaust survivor, heirs and anyone for whom the moral imperative of the Holocaust is important. The president of the United States does not deal with the issue. The Israeli government does not deal with the issue.
The State Audit Committee in the Knesset is delaying the establishment of a commission of inquiry into the matter and does not even ask the state comptroller what is happening with the finished report in his possession?
Perhaps a renewed commitment of Joe Biden, the Democrat candidate for president, for Holocaust restitution as was in the times of Clinton and Obama, will raise some hopes and cause President Trump to commit himself as well.

The writer is the founder of the Working Group for the Restitution of Jewish Property. He served as a senior adviser for the restitution of Jewish property in the Prime Minister’s Office and as the Social Equality Ministry, formerly the Ministry for Senior Citizens.