Judges Slam Survivor Benefit Law as Unclear

The 2007 Holocaust survivor benefit law is unclear, making it difficult for survivors to know whether they are entitled to state support, the Tel Aviv Magistrate's court stated Sunday, in its role as the appeals panel under the Disabled Victims of Nazi Persecution Law.

This was the first decision regarding the law and the rights it grants survivors.

"The vision of those who drafted the benefits law was that eligibility would be determined by a simple, easy, short and fast process ... without the need for complicated, drawn-out bureaucracy and lawyers," the judges wrote.

"We must admit: The law does not create a practical way for Holocaust survivors, their representatives or judicial panels to determine eligibility in a simple, easy, short and fast process."

The law was intended to provide a monthly stipend and other benefits to former concentration camp, work camp and ghetto survivors who do not receive any such support from Israel, Germany or any other country.

The law says that the people eligible for benefits are those who received a one-time payment from Germany under the agreement with the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, or received compensation from certain other German and Austrian funds.

The court criticized the Knesset's decision to refer to criteria set by foreign organizations.

"It is not even a reference to a foreign law. It is even worse, it is a reference to an administrative decision by foreign statutory bodies and foreign governments, which were not published openly and officially," said the judges.

The court quoted a meeting of the Knesset Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs, where representatives of the Justice and Finance ministries said the process was intended to make it easier for survivors. But despite the good intentions, in practice there is no way to appeal to any body or receive information on whether a specific camp or ghetto is recognized, said the judges.

The court also attempted to receive such information itself, as a note to the law says the agreements involved have been deposited with the Finance Ministry, but it turned out not to be so simple.

"The German reparations law is a thick book written in German, with the law and its explanations combined in a Continental fashion," wrote judge Shlomo Friedlander.

The judges got an English version of the law establishing the German fund, but it referred to the German reparations law for the list of camps whose survivors are eligible for benefits.

"The German language is not an official language in Israel, and most citizens don't speak it," admonished Friedlander. He also said the long lists of names were different in different languages.

The Austrian law lacked a list of relevant camps, and cited no source for such information, while the agreement with the Claims Conference had no official text in either Hebrew or English.

Friedlander said the German government later published a list of camps included in the agreement, but it was not complete.

He recommended the Israeli law be changed to state that entitlement should be set by Israel, "as after all, Israeli money is being granted here to Holocaust survivors, and not German or Austrian money."

Friedlander also wrote that it would be proper if an appropriate Israeli authority would set the criteria and publish them in Hebrew, and expand the list to include other places where Jews suffered from Nazi persecution.