Shoah survivor payments could depend on budget cuts, PMO director warns

Dinur: Cabinet to vote Sunday on recommendations of inquiry commission into government's handling of issue.

holocaust survivor 244.8 (photo credit: AP [file])
holocaust survivor 244.8
(photo credit: AP [file])
A decision by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On to increase the monthly stipend of some 43,000 Holocaust survivors may be conditional on the cabinet's approval of across-the-board cuts to the 2009 state budget, Ra'anan Dinur, the director-general of the Prime Minister's Office, said Wednesday. Dinur was addressing the Knesset State Control Committee on the decision reached Monday by Olmert and Bar-On to implement all of the recommendations of the Dorner State Commission of Inquiry into the government's handling of the survivors. Dinur told the committee the cabinet would vote on the recommendations on Sunday. One of the key recommendations was to increase the monthly stipend of about 43,000 survivors to the level of 75 percent of the stipend given by the German government to recipients of its restitution payments. However, after prodding by outgoing Knesset State Control Committee Chairman Zevulun Orlev, Dinur explained that the recommendation to pay the stipend would be part of a package deal together with Olmert and Bar-On's proposal to slash the 2009 budgets of most government ministries. Dinur said, however, that Sunday's cabinet meeting would be divided into two sessions. The recommendation to increase the stipends to Holocaust survivors will be presented and, presumably, approved in the morning. The second session will deal with the 2009 budget cuts. It was not at all clear that the arrangement described by Dinur would guarantee that the increased stipends would be paid. However, Dinur told the committee, "We decided to separate the issues. I will do everything possible to see to it that those who are eligible for the increased stipends will receive them before the holiday season begins. Orlev seemed reassured by Dinur's promise. "I regard the decision as a milestone in the work of the Knesset," he said. "With the great help of the state comptroller and the Dorner Commission, the Holocaust survivors will be able to stand up straight. To some extent, we have erased the disgrace and shame [of the way they were treated in the past]." State Comptroller Micha Lindenstraus, whose report in August 2007 on the dire condition of many of the country's roughly 250,000 survivors was the catalyst for all the measures that have been taken on their behalf since then, said his office would closely scrutinize the government's actions to see whether it fulfilled its promise. He said he was sorry about the survivors who had died during the year that elapsed between publication of his report and the government's expected decision. Former Supreme Court justice Dalia Dorner was pleased by Dinur's announcement. "I couldn't forget about this matter after the report was released," she said. "I couldn't sleep at nights. I was ashamed as an Israeli and a Jew. I am very happy that the report was accepted." Another member of the Dorner Committee, Prof. Zvi Eisikovitz, said he was pessimistic about the report because he believed the more serious problems faced by the survivors had to do with psychological and social problems. "The devil is in the details," Eisikovitz said, sharply criticizing the Finance Ministry's Rehabilitation Department for allegedly humiliating Holocaust survivors who came to it for help. "The survivors suffer and eat dirt in the Rehabilitation Department," he charged. He said public attention was focused on the increase in the survivors' stipends. "The public does not want to know about the day-to-day suffering of the survivors."