Jewish Agency probe ordered on confiscation of Sephardi IDs

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JERUSALEM — The head of the Jewish Agency for Israel has ordered an investigation into reports that the agency confiscated the passports of thousands of North African immigrants who came to Israel during the 1950s in order to prevent them from leaving.

About 20,000 passports were taken from immigrants from Tunisia and Morocco in the late 1950s, when there was a mass immigration to Israel from Arab countries, the Israeli daily Ha'aretz reported last week.

The passports are still stored in agency archives, the paper said.

The report threatened to stir new tensions among Sephardi Jews, who have long charged that they suffered social and economic discrimination at the hands of the state's Ashkenazi establishment.

According to Ha'aretz, 90 percent of the passports in the agency archives belong to North African Jews and only about 10 percent to immigrants from Europe who came to Israel during the same period.

A Jewish Agency official said there were some 9,000 foreign passports in agency archives, and that the agency chairman, Avraham Burg, had ordered a probe into the matter.

As a result of the policy of confiscating passports, the Israeli identity cards of these citizens do not contain their day or month of birth.

The Interior Ministry has refused to register their full date of birth unless the original passports or birth certificates are presented.

Jewish Agency official Yehiel Levy said the passports were stored in agency archives and that their owners occasionally came to the archives trying to locate the original documents so that they could get the full information about their date of birth included in their identity cards.