August 05, 2007 08:37pm

WEARING yellow Stars of David and striped prison garb, Israeli Holocaust survivors plan to rally in protest of what they consider paltry state aid.
Holocaust survivor organisations called for the afternoon demonstration in front of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s office after the government announced last week the amount of state aid to be paid to the victims.

Mr Olmert’s office said last Monday that beginning in 2008, the state would begin paying grants to the estimated 120,000 needy survivors over 70 years old living in Israel.

The payments would be worth 120 million shekels ($33.8 million) in 2008, 240 million shekels in 2009 and more than 300 million shekels each year beginning in 2011, it said.

But the figures sparked an outrage amid survivor advocates, who said that the payments foreseen – approximately $20 ($23) per month per person in 2008 – amounted to a slap in the face.

“We will not accept this insulting gesture by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and this time we will launch a campaign of vigorous protests,” the director of one of the survivor organisations, Dubi Arbel, said.

The planned demonstration, however, has sparked protest from the government after organisers said that some would wear striped pyjamas, like those used in Nazi concentration camps, and yellow Stars of David, which the Jews were forced to wear in Nazi-occupied lands during World War II.

Speaking at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting, Mr Olmert said, referring to a photo published on Friday in one of the dailies: “To publish a photo of a woman wearing a striped pair of pyjamas and a yellow star to call for this demonstration lowers the debate to an intolerable level.”

Calling it a “painful and sensitive issue,” Mr Olmert said that “the exaggeration is not acceptable” and slammed “those who exploit (this issue) for the sake of political intrigue.”

Speaking on Israeli radio, Social Affairs Minister Yitzhak Herzog said: “A march in which survivors will wear prisoners’ clothes and yellow stars, all in the name of a financial dispute with the government, is an insult to the collective memory of the Holocaust.”

The choice of name for Sunday’s demonstration – The March of the Living – has also elicited protest, as it is the name of the march organised annually at the Auschwitz death camp in Poland to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Two points in the announced government aid package have attracted particular criticism – the definition of who is eligible to receive the payments and the extended timeline of the aid to be distributed.

The number of those eligible to receive payments was announced at 120,000 people – nearly twice the 60,000 to 80,000 survivors who live below the poverty line according to various estimates.

The difference, critics say, came after the decision to expand the definition of a survivor to those who had lived but fled lands occupied by the Nazis.

The decision to start payments in 2008 and gradually increase them over the course of three years amounts to cynicism, critics say, as with every year the number of survivors of events that happened more than 60 years ago dwindles.

Mr Olmert said he would meet with representatives of survivor groups on Wednesday to “discuss how to allow the division of the funds that the government has decided to allocate in the best way.”