Holocaust Survivors in Israel Denied Extra Social Aid

Citing lack of staff, union head instructs social workers to disregard directive to assist additional Holocaust survivors.

Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron
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Illustration: Holocaust survivors.Credit: Itzik Ben Malki
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

The head of the Social Workers’ Union has instructed social workers to disregard a directive by the social affairs minister to assist more Holocaust survivors, arguing they lack the staff to handle the additional caseload.

“Despite good intentions, the directive will end up harming elderly people instead of helping them,” Zafra Dweik said.

Social Affairs Minister Haim Katz issued a directive in March to add Holocaust survivors to an existing plan for elderly citizens, which would link them to emergency call centers, night-time medical services and small home repairs, for a modest fee of 25 shekels ($6).

No positions were opened for implementing the plan, which requires opening case files and providing long-term care for each survivor.

Social workers started carrying out the directive but were later instructed to stop doing so. In a letter to the minister, the union said its employees were already working with caseloads of 300-500 clients so that adding survivors to their files was unfeasible. 

Social workers demonstrate at the Knesset, December 20, 2016.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

Six months later the ministry approached Dweik to try and resolve the crisis.

“The implications weren’t fully considered” said Dweik, “Opening hundreds of new files requires clerical services, not social workers. This will only hurt elderly citizens.”

The ministry replied that 300 positions had been added, some of which will tend to Holocaust survivors.

“We’ll work together with Dweik and find a solution,” the ministry said.

In a separate protest, hundreds of social workers demonstrated at the Knesset on Tuesday to demand protection against violence by clients after a recent shooting at a welfare office in Umm al-Fahm, which came on top of 230 other attacks against the civil servants last year.

“It’s unacceptable that those who defend the weak are themselves without protection,” organizers wrote in a letter to Social Affairs Minister Katz and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan. “We demand that the two ministries find a suitable solution to ensure the personal safety of social workers.”

Many welfare bureaus lack security provisions. In some cases local authorities, rather than the state, fund security guards. Larger cities such as Tel Aviv and Haifa have better protection. The organizers added that “we cannot continue to work in the field while under fire or while subjected to physical assaults, while the media and public remain silent.”