Comment: Facing up to decades of neglect towards Holocaust survivors

The financially successful majority made it easy for the gov't to ignore the less fortunate ones.

By DR. EFRAIM ZUROFF
August 15, 2007 23:33
3 minute read.
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It would be hard to imagine a more just cause than helping needy Israeli Holocaust survivors. Yet it is only recently in the wake of protests by local survivors and social activists that this issue has finally been firmly placed on the national agenda in such a manner that it can no longer be ignored. In that respect, the publication today of the State Comptroller's first-ever report on the subject strongly confirms the general consensus that has emerged during the past year, that the Israeli government has ignored the plight of needy survivors for years and is abysmally failing in its responsibility to provide them with adequate financial and medical assistance. There are numerous explanations for the current situation. During the years after the establishment of the state, Israel had other extremely pressing problems to deal with and in fact, there was little interest in the Holocaust and hardly any compassion for the survivors who ostensibly were the antithesis of the new Jew created in Israel. The material problems they encountered, moreover, were not unique and were shared by olim from other countries as well. The fact that Israel had received billions of marks in compensation from Germany to help absorb the survivors was not translated into generous assistance for individuals who had escaped from Nazi-occupied Europe. As time passed, two concurrent processes took place. Israel prospered economically and the country's Holocaust consciousness deepened. During these years, most of the survivors were able to establish themselves and become reasonably financially secure and thus did not require any special economic assistance, a product of their talents and resourcefulness which helped make it easier for the government to ignore the plight of those unfortunate survivors who were unable to overcome their historical circumstances. In recent years, the often-pitiful situation of the latter became worse as the cuts in general benefits for the elderly were implemented and their own unique problems increasingly took a heavier toll among those least able to overcome them. What is abundantly clear to almost all Israelis is that the State of Israel has a moral obligation to assist its own needy Holocaust survivors. It is unthinkable that Israeli survivors will have to face cruel dilemmas such as having to choose between purchasing food and buying badly-needled medicines. It is incomprehensible that Israeli survivors will have to live without the glasses, dentures or other medical equipment they require simply due to a lack of governmental assistance. Such help represents the moral obligation of the State of Israel not only to the survivors of the Holocaust but actually to all its citizens. Such help is the bare minimum we expect from a Jewish state, a country founded, according to our Declaration of Independence, on the vision of our Prophets who emphasized the need for social justice. Yet in any discussion of this issue, one cannot ignore an added obligation that the State of Israel owes the survivors, one which underscores the imperative that our government has to provide a dignified existence (chayim b'kavod) to all the survivors who chose to ignore materialistically-greener pastures elsewhere to join in creating the Jewish homeland. Ever since its establishment, the State of Israel has always presented itself as the bearer of Jewish continuity and the heir of the victims. As such, it was the recipient of billions in compensation and restitution and the beneficiary of many types of political and economic support. But such a status entails not only privileges but also obligations, and thus the same government which stands first in line to reap any possible economic or political benefits which emanate from the events of the Shoa also has to be proactive in fulfilling its own obligations toward those who continue to suffer deprivation and poverty as a result of those same events. The State Comptroller's report constitutes official recognition and proof of decades of governmental failure and ineptitude in dealing with needy Holocaust survivors. Let us hope that it also mark the beginning of the end of this moral failure and a new era in which those who escaped the Final Solution and chose Israel will no longer have any financial reason to regret that choice.

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