Knesset asks comptroller to investigate Claims Conference

Inquiry findings on gov't treatment of Holocaust survivors expected Sunday.

Lindenstrauss 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Lindenstrauss 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Knesset State Control Committee on Monday called on the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany (Claims Conference) to allow the state comptroller to monitor the organization's activities. Committee chairman Zevulun Orlev (NU/NRP) also announced that the findings of the state commission of inquiry on the government's treatment of Holocaust victims over the years would be presented on Sunday by retired justice Dalia Dorner. The call for an investigation by State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss was one of a number of recommendations the committee made at the end of a two-hour session on allegations raised in the media and by Holocaust survivors that the organization - established to represent the Jewish people on behalf of the victims - was misusing funds from the sale of property belonging to German Holocaust victims without heirs. The committee also called on the Claims Conference to devote a larger sum from a separate fund created to help victims directly to individuals. Currently the money goes toward organizations that help Holocaust survivors and refugees and to philanthropic organizations that are not connected to the Holocaust. Former Foreign Ministry director-general Reuven Merhav, head of the executive committee of the Claims Conference, told the committee and representatives of Holocaust-related organizations and individual victims that the organization had distributed $70 billion directly since its establishment in 1952. In addition, $1.3b. has gone into the coffers of the Claims Conference from property that belonged to Jews before World War II. Merhav said $600,000 of this money had gone to heirs of the victims who were discovered after the properties were sold. Of the balance, $300,000 was left in reserve and another $400,000 was devoted to the needs of survivors and refugees in Israel. Each year, Merhav explained, 80 percent of the allocated funding goes directly to the survivors, while 20% is earmarked for projects to commemorate the Holocaust. The proportion of funding channeled to the survivors and to memorial projects has become an increasingly controversial issue over the years, as has the use of money allegedly allocated to the survivors. At the end of April, the YES satellite network aired a documentary film by journalists Guy Meroz and Orli Vilnai-Federbush. They accused the Claims Conference of withholding funds from elderly, sick survivors, paying exorbitant salaries to its top officers and looking after its own interests and survival at the expense of those it was meant to serve. Meroz and Vilnai-Federbush attended Monday's meeting and continued to attack the Claims Conference. At one point, Merhav lost his temper and called them liars. Most of the Knesset members at the meeting spoke out against the conference. MK Limor Livnat (Likud) charged that there was "no transparency and no supervision. The feeling I get is that conference has been preserving itself down through the years." MK Marina Solodkin (Kadima) charged that the conference had not helped the Holocaust victims from the former Soviet Union apply for their rights and that explanatory material was published only in English, German and Hebrew. Pensioners Affairs Minister Rafi Eitan, whom the cabinet appointed as the government's liaison to the Claims Conference, criticized the organization for the fact that only four of the 50 members of its board of directors were Israelis even though the overwhelming majority of survivors live in Israel today. Orlev asked Lindenstrauss to investigate the relations between the government and the Claims Conference. He also called for the head offices of the organization to be moved from New York to Israel.