5,000 Holocaust Survivors in Israel Have Died This Year Waiting for Netanyahu's Office to Cut Red Tape

Critics say the country needs a unified database to map out the number, location, condition and needs of Holocaust survivors, but government agencies and NGOs aren't cooperating enough

Demonstration by Holocaust survivors in Tel Aviv, across from Defense Ministry headquarters, in 2012.
Nir Kafri

Some 5,000 Holocaust survivors have died in Israel since a state comptroller’s report this year demanded that services to them be improved and that a person or entity be appointed to coordinate services supplied by government agencies and civic organizations.

The issue is still being discussed in the Prime Minister’s Office and no such coordinator has been named.

State Comptroller Joseph Shapira believes that the absence of such a coordinator is a major deficiency in the state’s helping of Holocaust survivors. As he put it in the report, under the current situation “there is a gap in the response to the needs of survivors in some areas of their lives, while at the same time there is sometimes duplication in the provision of services, a lack of prioritizing and inefficient allocation of resources.”

Although the Finance Ministry’s Holocaust Survivors Rights Authority is supposed to coordinate these services, the comptroller said it wasn’t doing so. A special committee’s separate report, which was submitted to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2015, also noted that no one was coordinating activities to serve Holocaust survivors or identify their needs.

The issue also arose in local authorities’ responses to the comptroller’s report. According to one criticism, the multiplicity of agencies working for Holocaust survivors does not allow the creation of a unified database to map out the number, location, condition and needs of Holocaust survivors.

“It would be proper for the authority — having the broadest outlook and as the agency that controls most of the budgets — to be the coordinating body,” Shapira said.

After the report was issued, the prime minister told his director general, Eli Groner, to examine the sections of the report dealing with assistance to Holocaust survivors by government ministries, and a special ministerial team on Holocaust survivors met twice, in April and in June.

During those discussions, it emerged that survivors have difficulty accessing all the health and welfare services the government makes available. The ministers noted that no assessment was ever made of each survivor’s needs, whether it be in making their homes disabled-accessible, public housing, or the purchase of drugs not in Israel’s so-called health basket of subsidized drugs.

One decision made during the discussions was that a list of survivors not using the nursing services they are entitled to be transferred from the Social Services Ministry to the Finance Ministry authority. The ministerial team examined a number of possibilities for coordinating services, but no decision was announced on whether this task would be left for the authority or be given to another agency.

The Prime Minister’s Office told Haaretz that at the next discussion, “which will take place in a few weeks, the issue of integration will come up, with an emphasis on a comprehensive mapping of the social and welfare needs of the survivors and the realization of their economic rights.”

The State Control Committee is concerned about the delay in implementing Shapira’s report. Committee chairman Karin Elharrar (Yesh Atid) has written to the Prime Minister’s Office a number of times about the issue.

In July, Elharrar wrote: “It’s a long time that the State of Israel has no one agency that’s responsible for realizing the rights of Holocaust survivors. It isn’t clear what we’re waiting for. What is clear is that every day survivors die without fair and respectful treatment from the state. The Israeli government declares that the issue is important to it, but it seems that . it’s in no hurry to make this a priority.”

In January, Israel had some 158,000 residents entitled to rights and benefits because they were persecuted during the Holocaust, while another 56,000 have been recognized as victims of anti-Semitic and racist harassment during World War II. Their average age is 85 and around a thousand of them die every month.

The Prime Minister’s Office said in response, “The special ministerial team headed by the prime minister set up to assist Holocaust survivors recently convened twice and formulated a series of steps to assist in nursing care, public housing and welfare, and they are already being implemented.”