Israel Creates New Government Body for the Care of Holocaust Survivors

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Deputy Finance Minister Yitzhak Cohen at a dedication ceremony, January 30, 2018.
Deputy Finance Minister Yitzhak Cohen at a dedication ceremony, January 30, 2018. Credit: Oded Karni/ Government Press Office

The government on Thursday appointed a team headed by Deputy Finance Minister Yitzhak Cohen (Shas) to coordinate the activity of various ministries and authorities in regard to Holocaust survivors.

The decision came as a result of the state comptroller’s report last year, which was highly critical of the government for not having a central body to deal with survivors. The government will also seek out survivors in other ways besides sending letters, to ensure that they obtain their full rights.

The new coordination team will begin working in the coming weeks and will include senior government representatives from the Holocaust Survivor Rights Authority in the Finance Ministry, Prime Minister’s Office, and the labor, interior, health, social equality, aliyah and absorption, and housing and construction ministries.

As of January 2017, there were 158,000 Israelis entitled to rights and benefits as Holocaust survivors. Their average age is 85, with approximately 1,000 of them passing away each month. The authority distributes about 5 billion shekels (over $1.4 billion) annually.

Up to now, the survivors received letters with information about the benefits to which they are entitled, and if they didn’t respond, there was no follow-up. Now the Holocaust Survivor Rights Authority will attempt to contact survivors who did not respond to the letters to see that they obtain their benefits. This project is expected to last two years. The government is to be responsible for locating these survivors and instead of waiting to hear from them, the bureaucracy involved is to be reduced, and the relevant information is to be shared more efficiently among the various ministries.

Last April, Comptroller Joseph Shapira was harshly critical of the manner in which the government is providing assistance and services for survivors, and called for coordination between government bodies and civilian organizations on this. Shapira stated that “there is a vacuum in terms of meeting the needs of survivors in some areas of their lives, while at the same time there are redundancies due to an absence of prioritizing and inefficiency in the allocation or resources.”

The comptroller found that while the authority was charged with coordinating this activity, it was not doing so. The Vagshal Committee’s 2015 report to the prime minister said no one body is coordinating the activity on behalf of the Holocaust survivors, and no one was working to identify their needs and coordinate the services offered to them. The Haifa municipality responded that the “multitude of bodies working on behalf of the Holocaust survivors makes it impossible to create a single database that would map once and for all the [survivors’] number, locations, situations and needs.”

Officials from the Prime Minister’s Office pledged at the time to the former chair of the Knesset State Control Committee, MK Karin Elharar (Yesh Atid), that a decision would be made that same month, but it didn’t happen. The Ministerial Committee for Holocaust Survivor Affairs met twice to discuss the issue, without results. The State Control Committee held several hearings on the delay in implementing the report. In a meeting last January, led by committee chair Shelly Yachimovich (Zionist Union), the PMO said it was considering doing a national survey to examine the matter of survivors obtaining their benefits, but the idea was abandoned in the wake of criticism that funding for the survey could instead be going to meet survivors’ immediate needs.

Yesterday was the third time the ministerial committee convened. In previous meetings, the team discussed ways to make it improve the assistance to survivors in terms of health, welfare, housing and other benefits.

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