State apologizes to Shoah survivors

Knesset holds session during summer break to solve disputed fund problem.

jp.services1 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik strongly condemned on Monday Israel's treatment of Holocaust survivors. "Israeli society must amend its wrong-doings," she said. Itzik spoke during a special Knesset session which followed Sunday's agreement between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the survivors' representatives. Itzik condemned Israel's past governments for neglecting the survivors over the years, and commended the survivors' dedication and loyalty to Israel. "Israel demanded compensation from Germany, but did not distribute it equally to those who needed and deserved it." said Itzik. The Knesset speaker also offered an apology to the survivors. "Today we are here to look forward, to fix the error and to tell the survivors on behalf of the State of Israel, we apologize." Meanwhile, MK Marina Solodkin condemned the government's decision not to include "second-circle survivors" in the accord, calling it a "big moral and political mistake". "Second-circle survivors" is the term used by Israel to refer to Holocaust victims who were never imprisoned in a concentration camp. MK Sara Marom-Shalev (Gil Pensioners), a Holocaust survivor herself, demanded that the Knesset delay the approval of the 2008 budget until the issue is resolved. "We (survivors) are not at an age where we can wait any longer. Only yesterday I was at a funeral of a survivor friend who died with nothing," Marom-Shalev said. "I ask that Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On at least allocate the funds to the survivors, in accordance with the agreement, by the beginning of the Holidays." The session was called to order by 50 Knesset members, most of which were members of the opposition parties, including Arab parties. On Sunday, Olmert reached a partial agreement with representatives of Holocaust survivors in Israel to significantly increase stipends for needy survivors, but the parties failed to agree on benefits for the tens of thousands of elderly Israelis who fled the Nazi regime and were not in the camps. Under the accord, NIS 1,200 per month will be paid to everyone living in Israel who survived the Nazis' ghettos and camps and who is not already receiving a monthly allowance other than a National Insurance Institute pension, the Prime Minister's Office said in a statement. The new stipend, which will be paid to 8,500 survivors, represents a significant increase from the government's previous offer from two months ago. Another 10,000 Holocaust survivors will receive NIS 500 in monthly tax benefits and other discounts, and 12,000 to 13,000 will receive NIS 1,000 in benefits, said Uri Arazi, spokesman for the Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel. The sides failed to reach an agreement on stipends for 85,000 people living in Israel who fled the Nazis but were never incarcerated in ghettos or in Nazi camps, with the premier pushing off the issue until at least next month. These survivors, dubbed "the second circle," are predominantly people who immigrated from the former Soviet Union over the last two decades. The head of the Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors, Noah Flug, had proposed a compromise in which the government would provide these survivors NIS 500 a month, less than half the amount a recent welfare report suggested. But Olmert said members of this group should be treated the same as other needy elderly, a statement from his office read. He told the representatives of Holocaust survivors that by Rosh Hashana, which starts on the evening of September 12, the National Economic Council, headed by Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg, would present him with recommendations on how to assist all needy elderly. Olmert said he hoped that an accord could be reached for these Holocaust survivors in such a framework. The prime minister said that if no general solution was found, the two sides would discuss a specific agreement for this group after the High Holidays, according to the statement. Flug lauded Sunday's partial accord. "I am very satisfied with the agreement," he said. "One also has to know how to compromise." He said this was the first time the government had genuinely tried to solve the issue of how to help needy Holocaust survivors living in Israel. Welfare and Social Services Ministry Director-General Nahum Itzkovich also praised the increased government support for Holocaust survivors, but voiced disappointment that an accord was not reached for those who had fled the Nazis. Nearly a third of the country's 250,000 survivors live in poverty, recent welfare reports have shown.