Squeezing the Life Out of Holocaust Survivors

Defense Minister Ehud Barak refers to the sword hanging over our necks, in the form of an Iranian nuclear bomb, but a much more tangible sword hangs over the heads of Holocaust survivors.

It's no secret that the heart of any economic policy involves setting priorities and deciding which of them the state will spend its money on. But financial planning has another, less discussed aspect: the pace at which the state releases funds that have already been allocated and the effectiveness with which this is done. It turns out there are areas where Israel is a model of efficiency, and others where its foot-dragging leads to despondency and despair.

The Finance Ministry has an elegant brochure that it distributes to Holocaust survivors, and that details various benefits survivors are entitled to receive. The list, printed on glossy paper, looks quite impressive and does in fact include several useful clauses that elaborate on different subjects, including a monthly allowance, nursing assistance, and a partial refund on the purchase of electrical appliances.

What the brochure doesn't mention is that the road to redeeming these benefits is long and arduous. Take, for example, Rachel and Isaac – a couple of Holocaust survivors in their 80s who sought a refund of NIS 400 after buying a washing machine. Their exhausting journey to receive this refund (which they were entitled to by law) from the Finance Ministry's Holocaust Survivors Rights Authority took no less than seven months, including countless phone calls and letters to officials at various levels, who all repeated the same phrase: “It’s being handled.” After seven months, the issue had indeed “been handled”; the payment was authorized, but Isaac had passed away. Then a second round of abusive treatment got underway: Rachel was required to submit a renewed request for the refund, proving that she was Isaac’s widow, and that she still needed the washing machine.

It’s abundantly clear that the days of the Holocaust survivors living among us are short-numbered. It's also clear that the state is obligated to do everything in its power to enable them to live out those days in dignity. However, the Holocaust Survivors Rights Authority keeps a tight watch over the funds to which the survivors are entitled, refusing to release it.

But the state isn’t always so tightfisted when it comes to money. Just last month, the Knesset Finance Committee approved, in a lightning-fast procedure, the transfer of about 200 million euros from the public coffers to finalize a deal to acquire planes from Italy. The Defense Ministry had already crossed all the "t's" and dotted the "i's" with the Italians, but at the last minute someone remembered that the move requires Knesset approval as well. Four MKs were quickly convened, and at the end of an in-depth discussion that lasted a few minutes, they all voted "yea" – and the budget was approved. Two hundred million euros approved within minutes for defense purposes, versus NIS 400 delayed for months – and not transferred – to a couple of Holocaust survivors.

There are those who will argue that this comparison is unrealistic. But, why? After all, to borrow a phrase from the chatter about a possible Iran strike, the “window of opportunity” for helping Holocaust survivors is also closing. Thirty Holocaust survivors die every day, according to the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Survivors in Israel. Defense Minister Ehud Barak refers to the sword hanging over our necks, in the form of an Iranian nuclear bomb, but a much more tangible sword hangs over the heads of survivors. Despite this, the state, which is incredibly efficient when it comes to defense matters, takes its sweet time in helping needy survivors whose days are numbered, slowly squeezing the life out of them.

Asaf Lieberman hosts a program on Army Radio.