Israeli Holocaust Survivors Need More Funding, Top Court Tells State

Justices reject petition calling on government to pay monthly stipends to sone 83,000 survivors who moved to Israel after 1953, but says state should tackle problem ‘more vigorously.’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meeting with Holocaust survivors, January 2016.
Kobi Gideon/GPO

The High Court of Justice rejected a petition Thursday that had sought to force the government to pay monthly stipends to tens of thousands of Holocaust survivors who immigrated to Israel after 1953.

The justices said the move could only be made through legislation. But they voiced support for increased funding for needy Holocaust survivors, and urged the government’s attorney in attendance to bring their ruling to the attention of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon.

By law, survivors who moved to Israel before 1953 are entitled to stipends that range from 2,200 to 9,000 shekels a month (about $600-$2,450), plus various other benefits. But those who immigrated after that year are entitled only to an annual grant of 3,600 shekels, with no additional benefits.

The court’s ruling means that some 83,000 survivors will continue to be denied the larger benefit.

The reason for the cut-off is that the Reparations Agreement with Germany took effect in 1953. In exchange for the reparations, Israel agreed to assume responsibility for compensating all survivors that were then living in the country. These survivors consequently lost their right to seek compensation directly from Germany or other Western European countries. Post-1953 immigrants retain that right, but aren’t eligible for benefits under Israel’s compensation law.

In their ruling, justices Elyakim Rubinstein, Salim Joubran and Daphne Barak-Erez said that post-1953 immigrants could obtain the expanded Israeli benefit only through legislation.

“But even if legally we are unable to add to what is already being done, we, too, will become a voice for the survivors so that their issue will be dealt with more vigorously,” the verdict declared.

“Recently, the country erupted over the unbecoming treatment of elderly people in nursing homes,” Rubinstein said, writing for the majority. “Some of those elderly people, and others like them, are Holocaust survivors. Efforts should be made to increase funding for them and to find a more equitable solution.”

In a concurring opinion, Barak-Erez wrote that the petition “reveals the distress of many elderly people in Israel, as well as the moral and ethical expectation that Israel serve as a warm, supportive home for the Holocaust survivors who still live among us.”

In 2013, then-Finance Minister Yair Lapid pushed through legislation granting full state benefits to some 20,000 survivors of concentration camps and ghettos who moved to Israel after 1953. But the law didn’t apply to survivors who weren’t in the camps and ghettos. So, in 2014, the Ken Lazaken (Yes to Seniors) nonprofit petitioned the court to demand that these survivors also receive the higher benefits.

In its response, the state promised to give them “additional assistance by increasing the annual grant they receive today.” But it opposed full equalization of benefits.

Ken Lazaken’s legal adviser, Yifat Solel, said she “hopes the court’s correct remarks will reach the cabinet and Knesset. It’s inconceivable that Israel’s government should discriminate between survivors.

“The time has come for Israel’s government to end this discrimination,” she added.