Tel Aviv – In a contentious case pitting two bodies engaged in Holocaust restitution against one another, a court rejected a demand by the Greek Jewish community that an Israeli organization turn over shares in the Jewish Colonial Trust, the predecessor of Bank Leumi, worth up to a million Shekels.

Greece’s Heirless Property and Jewish Rehabilitation Fund (OPAIE), an independent arm of that country’s Jewish community founded by government decree in 1946 to take charge of heirless property left behind by victims of the Nazi genocide, had asserted that the Company for Location and Restitution of Holocaust Victims’ Assets had no right to the 512 shares of JCT as they had not been located in Israel at the time of the Holocaust and, as such, should not be administered by the Israeli body.

The shares were subsequently transferred to Israel.

Jews across the Diaspora put their money into the trust, a London-based arm of the Zionist movement tasked with raising money for the development of Jewish life in Palestine, with many such investors subsequently perishing in the Holocaust.

Following the Second World War, Greece’s parliament established OPAIE to oversee the restitution of Jewish assets and giving it exclusive rights over heirless property.

According to OPAIE, Hashava, which was established by the Knesset in 2006 to take charge of the disposition of the assets of Holocaust victims to “locate assets that are in Israel and of which it may be assumed that their owners perished in the holocaust” has no claim to the contested assets as the victims were Greek citizens who died in Greece while their shares in the trust were located in London.

While judge Gideon Ginat was sympathetic to OPAIE’s arguments, however, he ultimately ruled that shares remain with Hashava, citing the 2006 Assets of Holocaust Victims Law, which established the Israeli organization.

According to the law, “notwithstanding the provision of any statue, for purposes of the right to inherit the asset of a holocaust victim in order to receive it under this Law, that inheritance stature shall apply to the holocaust victim’s estate, which would have applied to him if he had been an Israeli subject, within its meaning in the Inheritance Ordinance.”

Speaking with The Jerusalem Post, Zvika Barak, who represents the OPAIE, said that under normal inheritance laws, the would have gone to his clients but for the 2006 law.

“The Knesset passed a law sixty years after the Greek parliament passed a [restitution] law whereby the Israelis took [for] themselves the legal [right] to give to this new company the jurisdiction over property that was not in Israel in the Holocaust that moved to Israel after,” he said.

“The Israeli legislators took to themselves the freedom to take ownership of property that was not in Israel in the Holocaust.”

While in his ruling Ginat said that he had no choice but to dismiss OPAIE’s appeal, he stated that given the fact that the original owners of the shares were not Israeli citizens, did not live or die in Israel and their property had not been located at the time of the deaths, it would be appropriate for Hashava to negotiate a compromise with the Greeks.

Barak said that despite losing the case, he still retains the right to appeal and that he was heartened the judgement because it was the “first time somebody said what we said all along.”

If Hashava will not negotiate a compromise, he continued, “we will find our way with this issue. We will not give up.”

Barak said that he believes it is ironic that Israel has been pressing European nations for decades to create mechanisms for restitution but that “the only one country that did not let them get it back is the State of Israel.”

Hashava rejected approaches by OPAIE because it maintains the right to the shares under Israeli law, the organization said in a statement following the judgement.

Israeli law applies to such Holocaust assets located within the Jewish state, Hashava stated, “regardless of [the] citizenship, residence or nationality of Holocaust victims” of the original owners. “The court rejected the organization’s interpretation of the order of succession and adopted the company’s position that the victims property law applies retroactively to all assets currently in Israel left behind by Jews who perished in the Holocaust.”

Hashava also rejected judge Ginat’s suggestion that it earmark some of these assets to help survivors living in Greece, stating that it already helps thousands of survivors in Israel “who need it most” and whose “economic situation is the most difficult of all the survivors.”

Hashava is unable to determine who qualifies as a holocaust survivor, as it relies on lists provided by the Holocaust Survivors Rights Authority which does not include Jews living abroad and, moreover, it is bound by the law to help survivors here, the group explained.