From serving in IDF special forces to heading the Shin Bet (Israel Security
Agency), and from Minister of Home Front Defense to Minister of Public Security,
Avi Dichter’s renowned career has always been strongly influenced by his
identity as the son of Holocaust survivors.
In April, Dichter was
appointed as chairman of the Foundation for the Benefit of the Holocaust Victims
in Israel, a government-funded nonprofit organization providing survivors with
services such as nursing assistance, refunds for medical expenses, home
renovations, volunteers’ company and legal assistance.
“I think that if
my parents, up there, wherever they are, knew that I’m now head of this
foundation, that would bring them a lot of satisfaction,” he told The Jerusalem
in his Tel Aviv office on Thursday.
The foundation, which is
budgeted by both the Treasury and the Claims Conference, has encountered much
financial difficulty prior to Dichter’s arrival.
In November 2012, the
organization announced the suspension of financial benefits for survivors’
medical needs in that year, due to an overflow of requests and a shortage in the
budget allocated by the Ministry of Finance.
As a result, some 6,000
survivors’ applications for medical expenses refunds remained unanswered last
The root of the problem, Dichter said, comes from the foundation’s
dependence on government funding.
“We are a nonprofit budgeted by the
government, and that is the worst situation to be in, because you depend on
bureaucracy, which is a huge strain, on all levels,“ he told the
“The assistance for medical expenses that we give survivors is
often called ‘grants,’ but what it really is, is refunds,” Dichter
“A grant is when you receive money, you use it, and then you
give some proof that you’ve used it. Refunds mean that you take money from your
own pocket, you use it, submit a bill and receive your money back.”
distinction, he said, is very important, because the foundation receives funds
in the form of reimbursements from the Treasury.
“In other words,
Holocaust survivors need to spend their own money for their medical needs, and
only later receive the reimbursement,” he clarified.
“But the budget that
the government allocates to these reimbursements is limited; if there is
suddenly no budget, people who already have spent the money because they thought
they’d get it back don’t get it back, and that is not fair.”
disappoint a Holocaust survivor,” Dichter said. “You could just not give them
the aid, but you can’t tell them that you will and then not keep your
Another problem that the foundation regularly deals with is the
large number of survivors who either don’t fit into the criteria determined by
the government in order to be eligible for certain benefits, or have special
needs, for which there is no official aid available.
For example, by law,
survivors who made aliya after 1953 are not entitled to as much financial
compensation as those who arrived before the date, a difference of thousands of
shekels, Dichter said.
In order to remedy the budget issues, Dichter has
begun exploring the idea of raising funds through private
“There is no history of serious fundraising here, and we also
can’t start building a proper platform for it now, because by the time we finish
establishing it, there will be money, but there will be no one to give it to,”
Dichter said that he makes sure to fit in meetings with
potential international donors when he takes personal trips each
“Donating to a museum, a university or a hospital is much more
widely accepted because they put a sign with your name on things, but you can’t
put a sign on a Holocaust survivor,” Dichter said. “It demands a different
“We need to tell them the individual stories of these
struggling survivors,” he said.
“Donors want to connect to the cause not
just rationally but also emotionally.”
Raising donations from outside the
government, he believes, will allow the foundation, which assists some 70,000
survivors each year, to treat special cases, and to strengthen its activity in
essential home renovations and providing the company of volunteers for lonely
“I want the foundation to have the means to do what it wants
to do,” Dichter stated.
“For me, Israel is not something to be taken for
granted,” he said. “Israel is something that we need to maintain and care for,
because we’ve already experienced destruction, and I have no intention of