When being thrifty is unjust

By Haaretz Editorial

Next week’s Holocaust Remembrance Day actually began on Tuesday, in an emotional and difficult discussion in the Knesset, in which Holocaust survivors participated. Some of the survivors said this year’s remembrance ceremony should be boycotted because Israel is denying its survivors and the treasury officials are dragging their feet and are indifferent when dealing with the survivors’ claims.

The main claim of the Holocaust survivors is that in order to receive their disability allowance they need to prove to a medical committee that their disability was caused by Nazi persecution, which is not an easy task as 60 years have since passed. Who can determine today, with certainty, what is the result of starvation and abuse in the camps, and what is caused by the normal process of aging?

The evidence brought by the Holocaust survivors before the MKs was difficult to listen to. One of them related that he suffers from a disease that has caused him complications in the mouth and the gums, but the medical committee (whose members’ wages are paid by the treasury) told him that he will only be compensated for one tooth he lost during the Holocaust. One woman said that after the committee rejected her request for an increase to her stipend, officials at the treasury advised her to pretend to be psychologically unstable the next time. The say this might result in her being granted more funding.

These complaints made by the survivors join similar claims heard two years ago, when it emerged that the Fund for the Welfare of Holocaust Survivors, which funds the needs of several thousand survivors who are chronic care patients, found itself in financial difficulties. The number of those supported by the fund increased as a result of the immigration of tens of thousands of Holocaust survivors from the former Soviet Union, but the treasury refused to transfer the NIS 60 million the fund required to continue functioning.

For years, Israel and Jewish organizations knew how to pressure the nations of the world, and especially Germany, to increase the compensation given to Israel and the survivors. The Jewish organizations also pressed companies and banks in Europe to pay generous compensation for property and money that was confiscated. In many cases the pressure helped and the compensation was paid.

In view of the force behind the demands made of other countries, it is appropriate that we should now make those same demands of ourselves. After all, the Holocaust is the basis for the establishment of the State of Israel. Without the sense of guilt the nations of the world felt for the brutal murder of six million Jews, we would not have managed to receive, in 1947, a majority in the United Nations for the establishment of an independent Jewish State.

The six million murdered in the Holocaust cannot be brought back but it is possible to treat the survivors differently. The survivors should not be viewed like any other lobbying group seeking to gain a larger piece of the budgetary pie.

The sums are not astronomical. The basic stipend is NIS 1,040 per month, and there are 250,000 Holocaust survivors left in Israel, of whom only 40,000 receive disability payments from the state on the basis of the law of Nazi persecution. Therefore, in this special case, it is appropriate to adopt a historic approach and disregard the normal conduct of the treasury. This is not a matter on which to be thrifty.