Olmert happy 224.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
After an emotional public struggle, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Monday reached agreement with representatives of Holocaust survivors in Israel over new government benefits for elderly survivors, including tens of thousands of needy ones who fled the Nazis during World War II.
The landmark accord comes two months after the government agreed to markedly increased government stipends for thousands of elderly Holocaust survivors living in Israel. It followed a massive public protest to improve the conditions of needy survivors in Israel amid criticism that the government had failed to help them in their golden years.
The government will allocate NIS 500 million to 85,000 people who fled from areas under Nazi occupation but were not incarcerated in ghettoes and concentration camps. These survivors, referred to as "the second circle" of Holocaust survivors, are predominantly Russian immigrants who moved to Israel over the last two decades, and include many who are poor. The funding will be transferred over the next two years.
"The state never gave those who survived the Holocaust the attention and resources it put into memorializing those who died in the Holocaust," Olmert said at a press conference announcing the accord.
Noah Flug, head of the umbrella organization of Holocaust survivors groups in Israel, lauded the accord, saying it would help Holocaust survivors who are poor.
"This is the first time in our history that the Israeli government has seriously dealt with this important issue," he said. "For years we have talked about those who were murdered, but forgotten about those who went threw seven circles of hell and who stayed alive."
The agreement in August allocated NIS 1,200 a month to every Holocaust survivor living in Israel who survived the ghettos and Nazi concentration camps, but who had not been receiving any government benefits, with the exact sum also linked to age and income.
At the time, Olmert said the issue of stipends for tens of thousands Holocaust survivors living in Israel who fled the Nazis but were never incarcerated in ghettos or Nazi camps should be dealt with as part of a package of increased government incentives for needy senior citizens.
The new agreement allocates NIS 1.5 billion, two-thirds of which will go to raising welfare payments for all elderly in need, including survivors, while the remaining third is intended only for survivors.
"We are very belatedly fixing an historic injustice, which was our moral obligation," Finance Minister Roni Bar-On said, adding that the government funding was agreed upon within the confines of budgetary limitations.
Social Affairs Minister Issac Herzog praised the accord, quoting from Psalms, "Do not cast us out in our old age, as our strength ebbs do not leave us."
Nearly a third of the country's 250,000 survivors live in poverty, according to recent welfare reports, prompting growing public calls for additional government assistance.
"We have done on this issue what no other Israeli government has done," Olmert said. "We have done the right thing."