Israel Won’t Give Monthly Stipends to Holocaust Survivors Who Arrived After 1953

Survivors of Nazi persecution who immigrated before 1953 are eligible for a monthly stipend from the state, ranging from 2,200 shekels to 9,000 shekels, as well as other benefits.

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Holocaust survivors walk through the main gate of the former Nazi death camp at Auschwitz, in Oswiecim, Poland, January 2016.
Holocaust survivors walking through the main gate of Auschwitz, January 2016.Credit: AP
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

The state told the High Court of Justice Wednesday that it does not intend to make some 83,000 Holocaust survivors who immigrated to Israel after 1953 eligible for the monthly allowances it issues to their counterparts who arrived before that year.

The Knesset, the Finance Ministry and the Holocaust Survivors Rights Authority said in response to petition filed by Ken Lazaken, an advocacy group for senior citizens, that the state planned to increase the annual stipend that survivors who immigrated after 1953, known as "second-circle" survivors, receive from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany. The annual stipend is currently 3,600 shekels ($953), and the response did not say when or by how much it will be increased.

Survivors of Nazi persecution who immigrated before 1953 are eligible for a monthly stipend from the state, ranging from 2,200 shekels to 9,000 shekels, as well as other benefits.

In September 2014, Ken Lazaken petitioned the High Court, asking that it instruct the finance minister and the Holocaust Survivors Rights Authority, which is part of the Finance Ministry, to end the discrimination that began with the restitution agreement signed with Germany in 1952 and give second-circle survivors the same benefits as first-circle survivors.

The case has dragged on since then, with the state requesting successive continuances.

In December, the state told the court that it would add some 2,500 survivors who were over the age of 90 to its roster of those eligible for state allowances, but the court demanded more details.

In February, the court wrote to the state, “We of course view favorably the decision by the finance minister to expand the rights of the Nazis’ victims... However, with regard to the petitioners who immigrated after 1953, the decision does not fulfill their request. The remaining survivors are dwindling and the real-life biological clock is ticking. Without making any predeterminations as to the outcome of the petition, we ask that the state’s respondents provide more details regarding the number [of beneficiaries] who are in the petitioners’ category and their ages, as well as regarding any reconsideration, which would be desirable.” The state did not respond until Wednesday afternoon, the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The state’s response included a table of the number of survivors relevant to the petition, broken out by age and country of origin. It also referred to a plan to provide half a billion shekels to older citizens. That program, however, is aimed at all Israelis over a certain age who are on income support, among them 57,000 survivors who fall into the category referred to in the petition.

In addition, the state added, “The finance minister plans to initiate a legislative amendment that will cancel the deductions being taken from some 6,000 ‘first-circle’ Holocaust survivors who are also getting quarterly allowances from the Claims Conference.”

The announcement noted that these steps have “significant budgetary implications” and will be subject to 2017 budgetary limitations and the approval of the Knesset. Nevertheless, given that “the respondents are initiating and leading significant processes that are aimed at benefiting groups of Holocaust survivors,” steps that will “cost an estimated hundreds of millions of shekels and will help tens of thousands of Holocaust survivors in Israel... the respondents will argue that the petition is moot and should be dismissed, since it does not offer any grounds for the honorable court’s intervention.”

Ken Lazaken was not impressed by the state’s response.

“We view as very important the increase in income support allowances, but this isn’t anywhere nearly enough to correct the horrible injustice being done to Holocaust survivors whose only crime is that they immigrated too late,” said Yifat Solel, Ken Lazaken’s attorney. “The finance minister is spitting in the faces of Holocaust survivors... The discrimination against the survivors who came after 1953 stems from one reason only: the desire of the state to save money at the expense of Holocaust survivors.”

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