"Righteous" is shorthand for "Righteous among the Nations," an ancient Jewish term that refers to non-Jews who follow God's law. In the modern era, the term refers specifically to non-Jews who saved Jewish lives during the Holocaust. According to Israeli law, the right to designate non-Jews as "Righteous" solely resides with Israel's national Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem.
Yad Vashem has a two-step process to vet potential honorees. In the first stage, the institution's Department of the Righteous assesses evidence submitted to it by third parties and determines whether a certain person deserves to be nominated for formal consideration as a Righteous. If the Department recommends a candidate, he or she then moves on to a second stage -- vetting by an independent Commission on the Righteous, traditionally headed by a retired justice of Israel's Supreme Court. Only the Commission is empowered to declare a nominee to be Righteous.
As I researched and wrote Among the Righteous, the Tunisian notable Khaled Abdul Wahab emerged as a likely candidate. With eyewitness testimony and powerful circumstantial evidence, the case in support of Khaled looked strong. In January 2007, three months after the publication of my book, Yad Vashem announced that its Department of the Righteous had nominated Khaled for formal recognition.
In the months that followed, as we waited for a final decision on Khaled's candidacy, I gathered further evidence, including the discovery of a new eyewitness, a woman named Edmee Masliah, who provided first-hand testimony of her experience on Khaled's farm in Tlelsa.
More than two years after the first announcement, news finally came that Khaled's candidacy was rejected. In fact, the decision had been made much earlier --- in March 2007, just weeks after the nomination was first announced -- but it had not been made public.
According to Irena Steinfeldt, head of the Department of the Righteous, Yad Vashem felt that Khaled may have performed noble, generous deeds in providing refuge to Jewish families, but his acts had not risen to the level of "Righteous." That is, she argued, he had not risked his life to save Jewish lives.