NGOs and government officials alike were swift to praise the Knesset’s approval of a NIS 1 billion national plan to assist Holocaust Survivors, which passed its second and third readings on Monday.
The plan, which Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Welfare Minister Meir Cohen put forth, aims to increase the benefits of an estimated 193,000 Holocaust survivors significantly, as well as reduce the bureaucratic barriers in realizing these rights.
“The approval of the law to increase aid to Holocaust survivors is an important and welcome step in the national mission entrusted to us – to ensure the welfare and dignity of Holocaust survivors in their later years,” Aviva Silberman, founder and chairwoman of the group Spring for Holocaust Survivors, declared Tuesday.
She added that her organization “congratulates the finance minister and all those involved in this important step.”
Silberman said the nonprofit, which is dedicated to helping Holocaust survivors in Israel take advantage of their rights, had found that a lack of awareness and a fear of the exhausting bureaucratic process were the main barriers survivors faced in realizing those benefits.
“The next step must be the relief of bureaucratic procedures in attaining these rights – from the adoption of a lenient approach by the medical committees that the survivors, under... the new law, must pass through, to activities initiated by the state in favor of raising awareness among the survivors and their families of their rights, and providing guidance and advice in addressing the process,” she said.
MK Yifat Kariv (Yesh Atid), chairwoman of the Lobby for Holocaust Survivors and a third-generation survivor herself, also welcomed the approval of the plan.
“The State of Israel is, for the first time, taking responsibility and will work with the survivors in an unmediated manner. The State of Israel is fulfilling its duty to [provide] life with dignity for all survivors living with us today,” she said.
On a personal note, Kariv added that she would “continue to work [to ensure survivors receive] a hug, warmth and love throughout the year, to relieve the unbearable loneliness, and [ensure] a dignified life for Holocaust survivors. This moral and ethical order is an imperative.”
In the second reading, 50 MKs voted in favor of the bill with none opposed, and in the third, it was 48 MKs in favor and none opposed.
Prior to the vote, Lapid said that “this is not just about amending legislation; it is about correcting a bureaucratic injustice.
Today we are changing the priorities and correcting the injustice that Holocaust survivors have had to deal with simply because they were not a top priority. It is not just the money that is being given to them; it is the simplification of the bureaucratic process.”
He added that “after the bill passes, our real test will be in its implementation. The survivors, who are departing from us daily, do not have time to wait.”
The new legislation will end 61 years of disparity between the allowances of the approximately 18,500 Holocaust survivors who made aliya after 1953, and survivors who arrived in the country prior to this date.
Currently survivors who made aliya post-1953 receive allowances of NIS 1,500 to NIS 1,800 per month. Under the new plan, these allowances would increase to between NIS 2,200 and NIS 8,000 per month.
The reform will also raise the minimum allowances for all Holocaust survivors receiving monthly pensions from NIS 1,825 to NIS 2,200. This NIS 166 million allotment will benefit some 85,000 Holocaust survivors and victims of Nazi persecution.
The third point in the plan, estimated at NIS 130m., would entitle Holocaust survivors to a 100-percent discount on pharmaceutical drugs included in the health basket, compared with the 50% deductible they have today.
The plan also calls for the elimination of unnecessary bureaucracy, transferring allowances directly to survivors’ bank accounts.
An additional NIS 65m. will be allocated to the spouses of Holocaust survivors who have died – in the form of a NIS 2,000 allowance per month, beginning from the fourth year after the death.
The national project also calls for welfare services in day centers, home visits from doctors, and emotional and psychological care, estimated at NIS 70m.