Survivors mistreatment to be probed

For second time in history, a state commission of inquiry is established by Knesset committee.

The Knesset State Control Committee on Monday ordered the establishment of a state commission of inquiry to be headed by a Supreme Court justice to investigate the findings of the State Comptroller's Office regarding government aid to Holocaust survivors in Israel. According to the law, the commission's members will be appointed by Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch. The committee's decision was originally sparked by a highly critical report on the dire circumstances of many Holocaust survivors that was included in the state comptroller's annual report for 2007. The decision came at the end of a meeting in which government representatives acknowledged that they had not kept up with a timetable of commitments made at a State Control Committee meeting on October 29. Then, Ra'anan Dinur, director-general of the Prime Minister's Office, had promised that 8,000 survivors who had been interned by the Nazis in concentration camps, ghettos or labor camps and were not currently receiving stipends from the Israeli or German governments would immediately start receiving a monthly stipend of NIS 1,200. Dinur said the stipend would be given as of October 30, but that the funds for it would be included in the 2008 state budget. During Monday's meeting, the committee learned that none of the 8,000 survivors had begun receiving the payments. According to Gal Alon, a liaison between the government and Holocaust survivor organizations, the state will start paying 1,500 survivors, the most destitute among the 8,000, within the next two weeks. The other 6,500 will begin receiving their money in March, retroactive to October 30, 2007. The MKs were skeptical. "I have the feeling that the government made a mountain out of a molehill," said Colette Avital (Labor), head of the Knesset caucus on behalf of the survivors, referring to the promises it made to the committee in October. "I'm afraid the Treasury is performing all sorts of tricks so that the money won't reach the survivors." Committee chairman Zevulun Orlev (National Union-National Religious Party) said that 40 Israeli Holocaust survivors died each day, so that there was not a minute to lose in distributing the promised funds. The panel also blasted the government for failing to live up to its timetable set by a cabinet resolution passed on November 11, 2007. In that resolution, the cabinet promised to prepare a bill that would include all the benefits that a special committee consisting of representatives of five ministries and the survivors organizations had worked out over the previous months. The committee was established in the wake of the public outcry over the state comptroller's findings. The bill is still being drafted. MK Arye Eldad (NU-NRP) told the State Control Committee he had the feeling that "the government is deliberately wasting time until the entire generation of Holocaust survivors dies off." Only five committee members were on hand when the vote was held at the end of the one and a half hour meeting. Four of them, all members of the opposition, voted to establish the state commission of inquiry. The sole member of the coalition present, Amira Dotan (Kadima), voted against. This is only the second time since the State Comptroller's Law was enacted that the State Control Committee has utilized Article 14 b of the law. According to the article, "The committee is authorized, according to its own initiative or at the recommendation of the state comptroller, to decide to appoint a commission of inquiry. Should it do so, the president of the Supreme Court will appoint a commission of inquiry to investigate the matter." The funding for the new assistance, which was supposed to have been transferred on January 1, has been held up by wrangling between various government ministries, including the Finance and the Social Welfare ministries, and is now slated to be transferred by March 1. The head of the umbrella organization of Holocaust survivors in Israel, Noah Flug, said Monday that he believed that the government would do everything it could to implement the October agreement, but welcomed any probe that would see this expedited. About 250,000 Holocaust survivors live in Israel. One-third of them live in poverty, recent welfare reports have shown, prompting the proposal for increased government stipends. Etgar Lefkovits contributed to this report.