Official dismisses Jewish compensation call
No claims have been presented to Egypt by any Jews forced out of the country and who wanting to return
August 10, 2000, 10:29 AM

CAIRO (Reuters)

- A senior Egyptian official dismissed a proposal that US aid should be pegged to Egypt's compliance with Jewish property claims against it, calling it a "non-issue".

Presidential adviser Osama al-Baz told a news briefing late on Wednesday that not a single claim had been presented to Egypt by a Jew who was forced out of the country and who wanted to return.

"We would welcome to receive any of these people because we still have strong ties with them," he said.

"This is a 'non-issue'," he said in answer to a question.

"Here in Egypt we never knew any conflict between Muslims, Christians and the Jews...We went to school with Jewish classmates...we shared their religious holidays," he said, adding Egyptian Jews were prominent in society and government.

Elan Steinberg, World Jewish Congress executive director, told Reuters last week that Jews had left Egypt under duress, leaving behind homes and businesses, and suggested US aid to Egypt be linked to Egyptian cooperation on the issue.

Large numbers of Jews left Egypt in the 1950s following the 1952 revolution and after the 1956 Suez crisis prompted an invasion by British, French and Israeli forces.

Then president Gamal Abdel Nasser started to step up property expropriations and nationalizations from the late fifties, targeting foreigners as well as the Egyptian elite.

A 1998 report by Egypt's state-funded think-tank the Al Ahram Centrer for Strategic Studies said the highest recorded figure of Egyptian Jews was 65,000 in 1947, just before the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948.

The period from mid-November 1956 and September 1957 saw the departure of 21,000 Jews from Egypt, the report said.

In 1979 Egypt was the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel and it is second to Israel as a recipient of U.S. aid, receiving about $2 billion a year.

Israel itself faces property claims from Palestinians who lost their homes and properties when war erupted in 1948 at the time of the creation of the state of Israel.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians left Israel, expecting to return within weeks. But Israel stopped them returning and confiscated their property, saying it had been abandoned.

"The Palestinians have a moral obligation to recognize the right of Jewish claims to property in Arab countries, just as there is a (Jewish) obligation to recognize valid Palestinian claims," said the WJC's Steinberg.

  Reuters Limited