Knesset panel: State’s Holocaust restitution is incomplete

NIS 1.085 billion remains to be distributed to survivors, committee says.

By JOSHUA LIPSON
July 9, 2013 20:15
3 minute read.
Knesset Caucus for Holocaust Survivors

Knesset caucus on Holocaust survivors 370. (photo credit: MK Yifat Kariv's Office)

 
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Israel has allocated only NIS 421 million out of NIS 1.65 billion in Holocaust restitution funds that the state holds, the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee declared Tuesday.

The state-run Company for Location and Restitution of Holocaust Victims’ Assets has collected the money, which is intended to compensate the heirs of Jews who perished in the Holocaust but who owned properties and other assets in Israel during the pre-state period.

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In the seven years since the state’s establishment of the company, NIS 1.65b. in assets has been located and cataloged. However, the Knesset committee mentioned Tuesday that of the total, only NIS 421m. had been allocated by 2012. Over the last year, the state has restored NIS 49.8m. in assets to claimants. By this account, a substantial NIS 1.085b. of the total remains in company hands.

In 2006, the Knesset passed the bill that led to the company’s establishment, in response to European Jews’ problems with real estate and financial assets that were invested in the Jewish state’s establishment but whose owners perished before they could claim them.

After a long post-election delay, the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee resumed discussion Tuesday about the restitution of over NIS 1b. in assets to Holocaust survivors and families of victims.

Micah Harish, the chairman of the company’s board of directors, explained that while the first stage of the company’s mission – locating and collecting assets – had been completed, much work remained on the second stage: dealing with restitution of assets to survivors and relatives.

MK Ya’acov Litzman (United Torah Judaism) complained that to date, the company had spent more on management costs than on restitution payments. As it stands, the company is allowed to draw an operating budget from 2 percent of the total assets held. Based on the 2012 end-of-year figure of NIS 1.085b., the state-mandated figure for the 2013 operating budget stands at NIS 21.662m. However, company CEO Israel Peleg promised to distribute a more considerable sum of NIS 88m. by the end of the year.

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In light of the gradual nature of the company’s restitution payments, concerns have abounded over the prospect of asset wealth being liquidated for uses not specified by the law.

MKs Shuli Muallem (Bayit Yehudi) and Merav Michaeli (Labor) demanded that the company double its aid to survivors.

They pointed out that the survivors were dwindling, and in not so long, “there will no longer be anyone to aid.”

Responding to this concern, Harish called for the assets to remain in the company’s hands after its legally mandated closing date of 2017, in order to ensure that the remaining monies could benefit survivors rather than state projects. To this date, there has been no official discussion of how to allocate assets remaining in the company’s hands after the statutory expiration of its mission.

Committee members were divided over issues such as the distribution of prepaid monthly grocery cards worth NIS 200 each to restitution recipients. In addition, they offered a chorus of suggestions for how to retool the relationship between the company and lawmakers during the project’s remaining years.

MK Elazar Stern (Hatnua) took it upon himself to negotiate with the Finance Ministry over additional state support for the company, in an attempt to guarantee that assets would be distributed at a brisker pace.

Pointing to numbers that suggested the company had spent 3% on management costs in past years, MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beytenu) demanded that it by no means exceed the legally imposed rate of 2%.

MK Yifat Kariv (Yesh Atid) asked the company to work toward synchronizing information with organizations abroad in the business of locating lost assets in Israel.

Despite the criticism, the committee members took time to praise the company for its work in locating and restoring significant sums of money to survivors and their relatives. They joined together in a call for cooperation among the Justice, Finance and Welfare and Social Services ministries in justly distributing the lost assets.

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