Orlev: Spotlight on Previous Administrations Too

The Knesset's State Control Committee has decided to establish an official commission of inquiry into the state's maltreatment of Holocaust survivors, committee chairman Zvulun Orlev (National Religious Party) announced yesterday.

A special report issued in August by State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss was harshly critical of how successive Israeli governments and other public entities had treated survivors over the years. Orlev's committee recently warned that unless the handling of state stipends for survivors improved, an official inquiry would be needed to advance matters.

Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch will appoint the members of the commission, which by law must be headed by a sitting or retired Supreme Court justice. The commission will have full investigative powers, including to subpoena witnesses and documents.

Orlev told Haaretz that after the government signed the new stipend agreement with survivor organizations two months ago, he stipulated that if the allowances are not transfered by the beginning of January, a commission of inquiry would be set up.

"We gave the government two months to prove it could do it, and the moment it turned out that [the government] failed to meet its commitments, we met ours," Orlev said. "The government promised to prepare within 30 days an overview of a bill for sorting out the survivors' rights, and two months have gone by and there's no overview. The 8,500 most needy survivors were supposed to receive stipends on January 1, and now they're talking about March 1, and I'm sure that won't happen either. And perhaps worst of all, there is talk of privatizing the matter and transfering the money through the Claims Commission, a body that is not even Israeli and is under no supervision."

The Prime Minister's Office has promised to cooperate with the commission of inquiry, but accused its instigators of extraneous motives.

"The PMO hopes that the definition of the commission's mandate will make it possible to investigate also the work of previous governments, including governments in which Orlev served as minister including as minister of social affairs," a statement said. "The PMO regrets that Holocaust survivors have become political cudgels."

In regard to this, Orlev said: "What interests us is the current situation; why right now the survivors aren't getting what they have coming to them. But we won't restrict the commission of inquiry, and it will be able to examine previous governments as well."

Advocates for Holocaust survivors, who battled the government this past year over the stipends issue, were not quick to welcome the announcement. Noah Flug, head of the Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors, an umbrella group, and Dubi Arbel, director of the Holocaust Victims Welfare Fund, both said yesterday that while survivors have encountered shocking obstacles in Israel over the past 60 years, the current government has done more than any other to try to right the wrong. They are reserving judgment on the commission of inquiry, merely hoping that it will help expedite aid to aging survivors, who are tired of broken promises.

(Ruth Sinai contributed to this story)