Anne Frank?s allowance. Last Tuesday, Israel?s political arena was plunged into a dramatic debate over the following question: If her hiding place had not been discovered and she had survived and immigrated to Israel, would Anne Frank have been eligible for restitution payments? Knesset Member Ophir Pines-Paz ?(Labor?) used Frank as an example to represent 85,000 ?Holocaust refugees? who, according to the government?s decision, will not receive monthly allowances. ?Holocaust survivors? are those who lived under the Nazi regime, while ?Holocaust refugees? are those who fled the Nazis, seeking shelter in other countries. The truth is that Frank never fled anywhere but only hid from the Nazis. So she would be considered a ?survivor,? not a ?refugee.? It is reasonable to assume that after having concealed herself for years from the Nazi regime, she would have been eligible for restitution payments from either the Dutch or Israeli governments.
The last train. The clearest explanation of the difference between "Holocaust survivors" and "Holocaust refugees" was provided by MK Yuli-Yoel Edelstein (Likud). On the one hand (referring to the "refugees"), he explained that "they were lucky and - like my father's family, and including my father - they escaped two days before Babi Yar, fleeing Kiev; they were put on a train, perhaps the last one, headed for Kazakhstan." On the other hand (referring to the "survivors"), he noted, there is "my mother's family, who spent three years in the Shargorod Ghetto." Many MKs argued in the Knesset this month that no distinction should be made between the categories; however, the truth is that they are quite different.
Sectoral allowance. There are some 165,000 Holocaust refugees living in Israel today. About half of them - 85,000 - are poor. A monthly increment of NIS 1,200 to the allowance received by these 85,000 Holocaust refugees would affect the state budget through an additional expenditure of about NIS 1.2 billion. In other words, in order to distribute this money, the budget allocations for other important causes will need to be cut.
Last week, Yisrael Beiteinu's Knesset faction threatened to take "every measure at its disposal" to find a solution for this population. The party has a vested interest: a sectoral allowance for immigrants from the former Soviet Union. The Prime Minister's Office (PMO) fails to understand why Jews who fled the Nazis are entitled to more state assistance than Jews who fled Arab states. MK Colette Avital (Labor) reminded her listeners that there was one difference between the Jewish refugees who escaped the Nazis and the others: Germany has reached a reparations agreement with Israel; the Arab states have not.
Class differences among Holocaust survivors. There are about 100,000 Holocaust survivors living in Israel today. A paper issued by the PMO presents the following class breakdown among survivors: 43,000 survivors who immigrated to Palestine/Israel before the signing of the reparations agreement receive an average monthly restitution allowance of NIS 2,200 from the Finance Ministry. The 20,000 survivors who immigrated to Israel between 1953 and 1969 receive a monthly restitution allowance of at least NIS 2,2000 directly from Germany. Another few thousand survivors receive restitution payments from other countries. The 23,500 immigrants from the former Soviet Union, who were unable to demand restitution payments before arriving in Israel, receive a monthly restitution allowance of NIS 1,600 from the German government through the Claims Commission (Article 2 Fund).
18 months in a bunker. Here are the criteria of eligibility for a restitution allowance from the Article 2 Fund: At least six months spent in a "forced labor camp," or at least 18 months in a "ghetto, as defined by the German government," or "concealment for at least 18 months in subhuman conditions, without any contact with the outside world, in a region under Nazi control," or life "under a false, illegal identity for at least 18 months."
Falling through the cracks. It is hard to get overly excited about what the Holocaust survivors obtained in the context of last week's arrangement. The agreement stipulates that only 7,000 Holocaust survivors will receive amounts that will improve their income significantly. These are individuals who have "fallen through the cracks": Generally speaking, they do not qualify for an Article 2 Fund allowance. For example, they did not spend sufficient time in a ghetto or camp. They will each receive NIS 1,200 monthly, which is intended to ensure that they will have an overall monthly income of at least NIS 3,400 (together with their old age allowance and guaranteed income allowance). Although this is only a small group, an important result will have been obtained: Every person who ever lived under the Nazi occupation, regardless of the circumstances, will now be receiving restitution payments - another NIS 166. Who else will receive an increment? Six thousand of those with a monthly Article 2 Fund restitution allowance will receive a guaranteed income allowance. The last law MK Yuri Stern (Yisrael Beiteinu) pushed through before his death provided an annual NIS 1,000 grant to these 6,000 individuals. Now that grant will be increased to NIS 3,000. In monthly terms, that means an increment of NIS 166.
A loan with interest. A common argument used against Israel is that it invested the restitution payments in other causes. Is this true? According to a report published two weeks ago by State Comptroller and Ombudsman Micha Lindenstrauss, "It is estimated that the restitution payments the Israel government transferred to handicapped victims of Nazi persecution between 1954 and 2004 totaled more than $3.5 billion in real terms, or more than four times the amount it received from the German government in the context of the restitution payments agreement." Thus, apparently, the only argument one could make against Israel on this issue is that it borrowed the money from the survivors and that it returned it to them over the years with interest.
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