Monday, August 06, 2007

The survivor scandal

The current number one item of news in Israel is the "march of the living," a demonstration of holocaust survivors in Jerusalem opposite the Prime Minister's Office today. Now why on earth would Holocaust survivors be demonstrating in Israel? The answer is simple, it results from a terrible secret scandal, that in the Jewish State holocaust survivors have not been well treated. For many years many of them (ca. 2/3) have been denied any kind of special pension payments, and some were unable to obtain payments from the restitution funds paid to Israel on their behalf. Also, many were denied access to their own families assets and bank accounts because they did not have the necessary documentation, very similar to the way they were treated by the Swiss banks.
You could say that there were two origins for this situation, first the lack of empathy felt by Israelis for others who have suffered and who specifically were holocaust survivors. Israeli clerks in Govt. offices tend to be rude and insensitive anyway, but also Israelis tended to regard holocaust survivors as having been weak and an embarrassment to the ideal of Jewish independence. The general attitude may be summed up as, they had the possibility of coming to Palestine, we came and survived, they didn't come, and their subsequent suffering resulted from their own bad choice. But, the holocaust survivors exacerbated the situation by accepting this second class citizen status. They felt embarrassed to be asking for more when everybody was in a difficult situation, in the midst of wars.
So all Governments up to this one of PM Olmert essentially swept the problem under the rug, until the number of suffering and dying holocaust survivors became a national tragedy. How could such people, who have suffered so much in concentration camps and ghettoes, be living without enough money to pay for their rent, food and medication? There are now ca. 240,000 survivors left, and about 1/3 of them are estimated to be below the poverty level. Most do get pensions from the Israel Social Security agency and also get restitution checks from German funds, but in most cases that is no longer enough.
Remember that Israel until now was not an affluent state, and has large defense budgets (recently only half of the requested defense budget increase was agreed), education, health budgets, etc. So it was a question of priorities. But, now finally the situation of the holocaust survivors has made it to the top of the agenda, and this demonstration is a great embarrassment to the Government. To give him credit, Olmert did raise the issue and managed to obtain a few hundred million shekels for the survivors. But, when divided among them it came to 85 shekels ($20) a month. It was this insulting amount that stirred the survivors finally to action.
Now Olmert must come up with a reasonable amount to satisfy their needs or he will be subject to much greater embarrassment. It is a scandal, a "shandah," that the State of Israel has for so long ignored and mistreated its holocaust survivors. These people must finally be dealt with with sensitivity, sympathy and adequate funds.
On the same day, by coincidence, a group of several hundred wheel-chair bound invalids demonstrated by blocking the main road into Jerusalem to protest the lack of payment of an agreed upon Govt. stipend for them.
Note that this year's national budget is the largest ever in the history of the State.


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