Students demand gov't funds for Holocaust victims

Students demonstrated in front of the Knesset on Wednesday afternoon to demand the government allocate money to aid ailing Holocaust survivors living in Israel. Hailing from Hebrew University, Beersheba University and Sapir College, the students protested alongside some Knesset members and carried signs with slogans such as "Don't abandon grandpa and grandma," "Let survivors live with dignity" and "Israel remembers the dead but forgets the living." The Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel has received a 2006 budget of NIS 14 million from the Ministry of Finance. It has requested an additional NIS 50 million from the government to help with the basic care of elderly and ill survivors. "We're actually fighting for them so they [survivors] can get the money," said Michal Gomel, one of the student organizers of the demonstration. "We think it's immoral and unfair that the Israeli government isn't taking responsibility for caring for the elderly citizens who went through the Holocaust and helped build this country. "This is our turn to take care of them and to give them life and dignity and welfare." Most of the students who participated in the demonstration are part of the Social Work and Welfare Colleges at their respective universities. They joined the battle right before Yom HaShoah and have lobbied MKs and gathered signatures from across the world for a petition to help survivors. The Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel, which provides basic healthcare needs for survivors in financial distress, does not have the budget to meet all the applications it receives on a yearly basis. Most of its budget comes from the Jewish Claims Conference on Material Claims Against Germany, which has an approximate budget of $1 billion a year. "Because we don't have enough funds, I'm embarrassed to say we can't answer survivors' request for their most basic needs," Dubby Arbel, CEO of the Foundation said Wednesday. "I think the demonstration proves that the problem we are facing is not a sectorial problem, but a national and worldwide problem." "I hope the students set an example for the ministers, people who hold positions of authority and for people worldwide to make a strong effort over the next two years to do everything for the survivors." Several factors contribute to survivors in Israel, who are either in or will reach their 80s in the next two years, financial difficulties according to Arbel. Many who came to Israel after the war got jobs without pensions, didn't register to receive payments from Germany or accepted a lump sum which did not last. Of the 260,000 Holocaust survivors living in Israel, approximately 20-30 percent of them are in distress and require help, said Arbel. His organization provides assistance to survivors to help them, among other things, to pay for basic healthcare needs outside of the health basket like eye and dental care, canes and hearing aids. "This is an abnormal and shameful situation," said Meretz MK Ran Cohen. "I'm very ashamed to have to demonstrate to get full justice for Holocaust survivors."