Right-Wing Gov’t Keeps Holocaust Survivors from Receiving Rights

In an effort to alleviate an egregious cycle of poverty in Israel, a new bill designed to provide greater economic benefits to Holocaust survivors who immigrated to the country after 1953 was introduced on Wednesday, April 19. Hadash MK Dov Khenin (Joint List) and Yoav Stern (Yesh Atid) are spearheading the joint legislative proposal with the aim of significantly increasing the annual financial allowances for post-1953 immigrant survivors. MK Khenin, who also chairs a lobby group on behalf of Holocaust survivors said, “The State of Israel needs to come to the Holocaust survivors and not wait for them to come to the State.”

Last year’s demonstration for Holocaust survivors' rights held in central Tel Aviv, April 2016. First from left: Hadash MK Dov Khenin (Photo: Holocaust Survivors Rights Organization)

Last year’s demonstration for Holocaust survivors’ rights held in central Tel Aviv, April 2016. First from left: Hadash MK Dov Khenin (Photo: Holocaust Survivors Rights Organization)

MK Khnein suggested practical steps to counter the phenomenon. “If King Bibi isn’t going to lift a finger to keep the population of Holocaust survivors from disappearing, we’re going to have to act on our own,” he explained. “It may be too late to prevent all the remaining Holocaust survivors from dying while Netanyahu is in power, but that doesn’t mean we, Hadash and other opposition parties, are just going to sit on our hands when there are alternatives. ”

While the annual stipend provided currently stands at 3,600 shekels, the MKs stated that they hoped to provide a boost that would bring the total sum to 12,000 shekels. According to the evaluations, the bill’s implementation would cost the state 650 million shekels each year.

Approximately 78,000 Holocaust survivors who arrived in Israel after 1953 currently live in the country. Because of their relatively late arrival, they were not entitled to a number of rights granted by the “Disabled Victims of Nazi persecution” law. Those who immigrated to Israel before 1953 also receive a monthly rent allowance of 2,248 shekels. Moreover, a convalescence financial package provided to the pre-1953 immigrants totals 29,000 shekels per year. If the new proposed legislation is passed by the Knesset, it would constitute a significant difference in compensation currently awarded by the state.

While huge gaps would remain in the sums received by the two groups even if the bill passes, the new legislation seeks to boost the allowance for post-1953 survivors by 1,000 shekels per month, three times the sum they currently receive.

The State Comptroller’s report, released on Wednesday, five days before this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day (April 24), indicated that Holocaust survivors in the country were not getting the rights they deserve. Whether it is the failure to allocate financial, housing or medical assistance, failure to have a central authority stand up for Holocaust survivors, or failure on other issues, a newly published State Comptroller’s Report clearly said the government has failed to preserve those rights.

State Comptroller Joseph Shapira’s report cautioned, “The state’s attitude toward survivors may affect the memory of the Holocaust for future generations.” Shapira warned that time is running out and the government must work to make improvements for survivors, whose average age is 85. Shapira wrote: “The long wait of survivors for proper public housing demands a general, system-wide perspective regarding those survivors who need this kind of housing,” to ensure the delays cease. Next, the report said, too many of the country’s roughly 214,000 survivors or World War II victims of anti-Semitism, Nazism and Fascism – around 1,000 of whom die each month – depend on non-governmental organizations in the absence of a government- sponsored body to oversee their welfare.

The state’s Holocaust Survivors’ Rights Authority may be the logical organization to deal with the issue, but it has not been granted overarching authority under the law. With more authority, it could press various ministries to prioritize survivors’ rights. The lack of clarity in the state’s laws on the issue at times also leaves survivors ignorant about their rights, or leads to multiple ministries performing the same functions, said the report.

In addition, the report found that in 2014 and 2015, 60 million shekels earmarked as aid to elderly survivors was never used for that purpose due to lack of supervision and plans by the Social Equality Ministry to utilize the funds. Hadash attacked Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Wednesday for avoiding responsibility for the welfare of Holocaust survivors, asserting that he demonstrated insensitivity when he blamed the passage of time for the shrinking number of survivors.

Next Sunday, April 23, a demonstration for Holocaust survivors’ rights will be held in Tel Aviv with the participation of MK Khenin.