Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon ordered the immediate transfer of some 30 million shekels ($7.8 million) to 11,000 destitute Holocaust survivors on Sunday, after nearly a year in which they hadn't received their restitution allowances due to a legal dispute.
During a discussion held Sunday in the office of Deputy Finance Minister Yitzhak Cohen, the Company for Location and Restitution of Holocaust Victim’s Assets (known in Hebrew as Hashav) agreed to sign a commitment that would allow the survivors to get their quarterly grant of 2,750 shekels this month.
For nearly a year – from July 2015 through April 2016 – this money had not been paid to the survivors because of a legal dispute between Hashava and the Jewish Colonial Trust, around half of whose shares were owned by people who perished in the Holocaust.
JCT owns almost 5 percent of the shares of Bank Leumi today, but has refused to sell them and transfer the money to Hashava. The value of the Leumi shares has fallen and the company fears it will lose tens of millions of shekels if it has to sell the shares now.
On the eve of Passover this year, after months had passed without transfer of the allowances, the Finance Ministry decided to provide the funds to the needy survivors as a one-time solution. After Haaretz reported on the situation, Kahlon promised that the money would be paid every quarter to them by the treasury until the dispute was settled.
The 30 million shekels that the treasury had allocated for the grants were being held up because the Hashava’s chairman, Micha Harish, and CEO, Yisrael Peleg, were unwilling to promise to return the money to the treasury. According to a source who was at Sunday's meeting, the treasury agreed to change a clause in the agreement governing these payments, which states that all money that Hashava has available will have to be used to pay the debt to the government. This clause was changed to read that only the money received from the JCT, with which Hashava is in dispute, would be transferred to the treasury.
Finance Ministry officials had said last week that if Hashava did not sign the agreement, they would ask Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit to liquidate Hashava immediately so that all the money it has could be distributed to survivors and back to the treasury. Hashava is meant to be dismantled in 2017, after it ends its mission of returning assets to heirs.
“The good of Holocaust survivors is the priority,” said Kahlon. “We cannot allow ourselves to quarrel on the backs of Holocaust survivors and our moral obligation is to let them age with dignity. This money belongs to the survivors and that’s how we must relate to it.”
Deputy Minister Cohen added, “I’m pleased that we reached an agreement and that there’s a solution for the Holocaust survivors. It’s too bad that Hashava didn’t give its commitment sooner.”