Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon promised on Tuesday to pay the full stipends owed to 11,200 needy Holocaust survivors and convened an urgent meeting of ministry officials to find a funding source for the payments.
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The meeting was called after Haaretz reported that these survivors hadn’t received the stipends they are due for the last 10 months because of a legal dispute between two companies.
By law, the state-owned Company for Location and Restitution of Holocaust Victims’ Assets is supposed to give needy survivors a quarterly grant of 2,700 shekels ($720). But the company is suffering cash-flow problems. It is seeking the necessary funds from a holding company called Otzar Hityashvuth Hayehudim, which is partly owned by the World Zionist Organization. But OHH can only raise the money by selling its shares in Bank Leumi, which it doesn’t want to do because the share price has declined, meaning that selling now could lead to losses of tens of millions of shekels.
The legal battle is over whether OHH should be forced to sell its shares.
The treasury has been asked several times in the past to advance money to pay the stipends until such time as the dispute is resolved, but until now, all these requests have been ignored.
On Tuesday, however, Kahlon ordered that all the money due be paid to the survivors within a month. He also promised that if the dispute isn’t resolved soon, the treasury will continue to finance the stipends until it is.
“Our clear statement is that this dispute will no longer be conducted on the backs of the Holocaust survivors,” Deputy Finance Minister Yitzhak Cohen, who also attended the meeting, told Haaretz.
“We understand from the Justice Ministry that after many months, this dispute is due to end soon. But even if it doesn’t end, we’ll continue to transfer the money to them. This is an exceptional case, and therefore our conduct here is exceptional: We won’t allow the Holocaust survivors to fall through the cracks.”
Last week, Haaretz reported that the treasury had finally agreed to fund this quarter’s stipends, but would cover neither the other missing payments nor future ones. That agreement was reached after Knesset Finance Committee chairman Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) contacted the head of the treasury’s Holocaust Survivors Rights Authority, Ofra Ross. She agreed that her agency would loan the restitution company 30 million shekels – enough to cover one quarter’s worth of stipends – because of the upcoming Passover holiday. But the agency refused to cover the payments missed over the previous 10 months, which total 250 million shekels.
Previously, MK Yael German (Yesh Atid) had asked Finance Ministry Director General Shai Babad to give the restitution company a loan guarantee so it could borrow money to pay the stipends. However, Babad refused.