Don't abandon Israel's Holocaust survivors

The prime minister hasn't kept his commitments, but it's not too late for the Knesset to act.

holocaust survivor 298.8 (photo credit: GPO [file])
holocaust survivor 298.8
(photo credit: GPO [file])
There are some 260,000 Holocaust survivors in Israel today, one third of whom live below the poverty line. A good many suffer from physical and emotional ailments - loneliness and distress, and a lack of family and social support systems. This is an aging population, with 10,000 of its members requiring welfare assistance. The Holocaust Survivors Welfare Fund, which allocates money for this population, barely manages to take care of these people. It is supposed to receive a 2007 allocation of NIS 33 million from the Finance Ministry and about $48 million from the Claims Conference, the latter in charge of approximately one $1 billion per annum taken in as compensation for the suffering meted out to Holocaust victims. This welfare fund takes care of some 30,000 Holocaust victims. The sum at its disposal is insufficient to adequately meet the needs of those already on its rolls, and it can't extend services to many others in need. This means we are failing to meet our aspirations to be a society in which each survivor is not only a number but also has a name, a society which fosters and supports aging individuals rather than casting them off. In the budget deliberations for 2007 and in the course of the past year, we urged Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the Finance Ministry to increase government funding at once to the tune of NIS 50 million annum. From the Claims Conference we urged an annual increase to $85 million. A total amount of $100 million would enable the Holocaust Survivors Welfare Fund to double the amount of people to whom assistance could be extended so that their basic needs could be met enabling them to live decently. The draft of the 2008 Budget will be presented shortly, with the Knesset going into recess at the end of this month. Whatever legislation isn't passed by then will have to wait until the fall, after the holidays. By then, another 3,000 Holocaust victims will have passed away. SPEAKING AT last year's Holocaust Remembrance Day, Prime Minister Olmert promised action. He said his newly appointed social welfare minister would address this issue. He said a plan was in place. But in the intervening period, the finance minister left office under a cloud and a new round of musical chairs was carried out. Now there is a new finance minister. But where does all this leave the Holocaust survivors in need of help? The government's treatment of these vulnerable people is despicable; it's yet another reason this government deserves to be sent home. And what of the Knesset? I urge Knesset members to do all in their power:
  • Vote for an immediate increase in government funding for the Holocaust Survivors Welfare Fund, for an annual amount of NIS 50 million as of the 2007 Budget.
  • Demand that the Claims Conference increase its annual allocation to $85 million a year.
  • Guarantee passage of legislative proposals ensuring the status and rights of Holocaust survivors. On Monday, the Knesset Finance Committee approved for inclusion into the 2008 budget MK Haim Oron's proposal regarding the eligibility of 1947 DP Camp Interns. MK Colette Avital withdrew her proposal on "duplicate allocations" after the Ministry of Finance promised to incorporate it into 2008 budget. Now is time to pass these proposals. We are determined to accelerate our campaign to achieve social justice on this issue. Because each Holocaust survivor bears a name, and each one of us carries a responsibility. The writer, a former general, is chairman of Tafnit and president of the Sderot Conference on Social Issues.