High Court Demands Israel Explain Disparity in Support for Holocaust Survivors Who Emigrated Later

Israel's stipend policy for Holocaust survivors divides recipients into categories, which the director general of the Social Equality Ministry says has caused 'intolerable' disparities

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The petitioners and their families at the High Court of Justice, on Thursday.
The petitioners and their families at the High Court of Justice, on Thursday.

The High Court of Justice has ordered the state to explain its refusal to provide allowances and state-funded medical treatment to Holocaust survivors who moved to Israel after October 1953.

Thursday’s show-cause order came in response to a petition by four survivors who fled from Poland to Russia, where they and their families were later exiled to forced-labor camps in Siberia by the Soviet government. All four moved to Israel after 1953. They are being represented by the Justice Ministry’s legal aid department.

Israel's government stipend policy for Holocaust survivors divides recipients into categories, which the director general of the Social Equality Ministry says has caused "intolerable" disparities.

The first category consists of about 54,000 survivors who immigrated to Israel up until 1953 after surviving Nazi ghettos and camps or being forced to live under a false identity during the Holocaust. They are entitled to a monthly stipend of between 2,435 and 6,160 shekels ($740 to $1,873), depending on the level of disability recognized by the government. Some 16,000 of them are eligible for expanded stipends of up to 11,200 shekels a month ($3,408).

The second category includes about 127,000 survivors, made up of about 61,000 who emigrated after 1953, mostly from the former Soviet Union, and some 59,000 who were persecuted in Tunisia, Libya, Iraq, Morocco and Algeria during the Holocaust. These roughly 127,000 survivors are entitled to only 333 shekels a month ($101).

The petitioners argued that the date of their immigration cannot be grounds for discriminating against them and denying them benefits worth thousands of shekels a month. Government attorneys had said in their initial response that the cutoff date was instituted for budgetary reasons. Justices Isaac Amit, Ofer Grosskopf and Alex Stein ordered the state to submit its explanation by January 3.

The government’s Holocaust Survivors Rights Authority estimates that around 2,000 of the survivors who do receive the stipends were exiled from Poland and other countries to labor camps and penal colonies throughout the Soviet Union.

The government’s attorney argued during Thursday’s hearing that while the state certainly did not minimize the suffering in Soviet labor camps, “we live with a limited budget, and there are people who have to make the decision, and the question is whether the decision is reasonable or not.” But this evidently did not convince the justices.

Nevertheless, they also had some tough questions for the petitioners. Amit, for instance, questioned whether those deported to Siberia actually deserved to be included in the “first circle” of survivors. “The suffering in Siberia is clear to everyone, but first circle?” he asked, suggesting that this suffering still incomparable to being in a concentration camp or ghetto, living in hiding or doing forced labor for the Nazis.

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