A woman who took hundreds of thousands of shekels from Holocaust survivors supposedly to help them receive reparations from the state has been ordered by a court to return the money.
The ruling by the Rishon Letzion Magistrate’s Court could affect hundreds of survivors waiting for the disposition of their suits against the woman, Rachel Doani. It was issued about two weeks ago by senior Court Registrar Dalia Ostereicher. The suit in the Rishon Letzion court was brought by seven Holocaust survivors, represented by the legal aid department of the Justice Ministry.
The survivors, in their 80s, are from Libya. They were recognized as Holocaust survivors because they fled their homes in Libya from Nazi rule out of fear for their lives. They are part of a group of thousands of Israelis from that country who have been recognized as Holocaust survivors entitled to reparations according to a 2010 law governing handicapped survivors of Nazi persecution.
A government decision allows survivors to receive recognition by filling out a single form, without having to go to court. However, Doani took 6,000 shekels ($1,727) to fill out the form. According to the indictment, she also opened hundreds of files in the state repossession unit against the people who did not pay her. After receiving hundreds of such applications, the deputy director of the repossession unit informed Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of the matter. Shaked ordered the minister’s legal aid department to assist the survivors. “There is no exploitation that is not infuriating, but when those deceived are elderly Holocaust survivors, it is especially infuriating. It is nauseating that someone thinks they can make a profit on the backs of survivors,” the minister wrote.
The law already has a remedy for such cases – a 2014 amendment states that in cases where only a form needs to be filled out and no court procedure is necessary, the fee is not to exceed 949 shekels. The law requires that intermediaries like Doani return sums charged before the law was passed that exceed that figure; however, for a limited period, the law permitted the intermediaries to return only 25 percent of the money over that figure that they received.
The legal aid department filed suits in the name of 141 survivors. At one point, the court suggested a compromise by which Doani would only pay back part of the money, but the survivors refused the compromise. Now the court has ordered Doani to pay back the entire sum.
"She asked me to sign a document that says I would give her a sum that's three times as high as the stipend that I would get, 6,000 shekels, in return for her help," says Avraham Ganach, a resident of Netanya who was one of the survivors who sued Doani. "Only when the Justice Ministry got in touch I realized she cheated me. It was a lot of money that could have helped me with things like grocery shopping."
Ostereicher noted in her ruling that if Doani “had acted wisely, and taken advantage of the [reduced payment] the law allowed, and had quickly paid back 25 percent of the money she received, the situation would be entirely different today. But she did not do that and she has only herself to blame.”
Ostereicher also quoted Supreme Court Justice Noam Sohlberg’s ruling on this matter that “the benefit is not only in a few hundred or thousands of shekels for each survivor. The benefit is first and foremost a matter of values, when it has become clear that we have here an infuriating phenomenon of exploitation of elderly Holocaust survivors, we have the obligation to root out this phenomenon.” Sohlberg quoted Deuteronomy in his ruling: “So shalt thou put away evil from the midst of you.”
Attorney Gilad Semama, head of the Justice Ministry’s legal aid department said: “Justice has been done. The phenomenon of charging excessive sums from Holocaust survivors should not have ever happened, especially in the State of Israel. The legal aid department has encountered many such cases and we are determined to root out the phenomenon, and we do not intend to accept compromises that do not benefit the Holocaust survivors.”
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