“I don’t deal in charlatanism. The Knesset is a supervisory body, not an executive one. I don’t want to give the impression that I’m acting, if I’m unable to act,” Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud) told "Globes" today. He was explaining his decision to suspend activity aimed at locating real estate property in Israel belonging to people who died in the Holocaust.
Rivlin made his decision after preparations had already begun to locate properties, following the handling of Holocaust victims’ bank accounts in Israel by the Parliamentary Inquiry Committee for the Location and Restitution of Assets of Holocaust Victims. MK Colette Avital (Labor) chairs the committee.
Avital said in response that she would continue working against the suspension, and to complete the procedures. She is scheduled to meet with Rivlin, and she believes that she will succeed in changing the decision, “although it seems to me that this is a Sisyphean struggle. The Knesset doesn’t kill issues; it wears them out by attrition.”
Rivlin said that in retrospect, it seems to him that last year’s decision to allocate NIS 1.7 million for locating real estate was “charlatanism.” Avital asked for NIS 5 million.
Rivlin decided to suspend proceedings after the government entered the picture by sponsoring a bill to restore Holocaust victims’ property. The bill passed its first Knesset reading. He said that the government had signaled a turnaround in proceedings, and would henceforth take responsibility for implementation, while the Knesset’s job was to monitor and supervise government policy.
Rivlin made no attempt to conceal that his decision also had a political motive. He said that a Knesset role in locating and restoring land properties belonging to Holocaust victims could serve as a precedent for Arab Israelis and Palestinians demanding the restoration of the their property in Israel that had passed into Israeli hands after 1948. Efforts have already been made to locate property originally owned by Arabs, even if the property had been entrusted to the Custodian General.
Avital’s version of events is different. She called the Knesset’s handling of the tender for choosing the lawyers and accountants to carry out the search “a scandal.” According to Avital, Rivlin was unwilling to approve a special committee, and would only agree to a subcommittee.
Prof. Yossi Katz, who raised the question of real estate assets belonging to Holocaust victims, rejects Rivlin’s assertions that the government is the rightful executive body in the matter. He said that government handling of the search for real estate assets was tainted by a conflict of interest, since a considerable proportion of the assets were government owned.
Published by Globes [online] - www.globes.co.il - on June 7, 2005