Sur­vivors de­cry $20 Is­raeli stipend in na­tion awash in Holo­caust cash

The Washington Times Weekly - - World - By Joshua Mit­nick

JERUSALEM — The gov­ern­ment of Is­rael — a na­tion founded as a refuge for Holo­caust sur­vivors — is fac­ing ris­ing com­plaints that it ne­glects tens of thou­sands of those sur­vivors as they grow poor and sick in old age.

Ou­traged at a re­cent gov­ern­ment of­fer of a new $20 monthly stipend to Holo­caust sur­vivors, hun­dreds of demon­stra­tors marched out­side of Prime Min­is­ter Ehud Olmert’s of­fice on Aug. 5 de­mand­ing greater ben­e­fits.

The stipend is in ad­di­tion to other ben­e­fits, in­clud­ing so­cial se­cu­rity and repa­ra­tions that some sur­vivors re­ceive from the Ger­man gov­ern­ment.

The march was one of the largest protests ever staged by Holo­caust sur­vivors, who tried to lever­age their unique moral author­ity among the Is­raeli pub­lic to em­bar­rass the gov­ern­ment.

Pro­test­ers wore the yel­low Star of David used by the Nazis to iden­tify Jews in wartime Europe, and car­ried signs say­ing, “We’ve al­ready hon­ored the dead. Why don’t we re­spect the liv­ing?”

The gov­ern­ment spon­sors pro­grams to memo­ri­al­ize the 6 mil­lion Jews who died un­der the Nazis dur­ing World War II, and has helped send droves of high school-aged youths to visit the con­cen­tra­tion camps in Poland.

But un­til re­cently, few Is­raelis re­al­ized so many sur­vivors were liv­ing in eco­nomic and med­i­cal dis­tress af­ter be­ing ne­glected by suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments.

“This is tear­ing at the core of the Is­raeli so­ci­ety, which is about uni­fy­ing around the Holo­caust sur­vivors,” said Roni Lottner, a 41year old school prin­ci­pal and a grand­son of Holo­caust vic­tims.

“It’s a shame for the gov­ern­ment to of­fer sur­vivors such a small amount. Is­raelis are em­bar­rassed by a prime min­is­ter who smokes cigars that are more ex­pen­sive.”

For all the ridicule, Mr. Olmert is the first prime min­is­ter to try to ad­dress the prob­lem. He ac­cused some rally or­ga­niz­ers of hav­ing po­lit­i­cal mo­tives.

“This is a sen­si­tive and ex­plo­sive is­sue,” he said. “Overblow­ing the sit­u­a­tion is in­ap­pro­pri­ate.”

As of 2002, there were 279,000 Holo­caust sur­vivors in Is­rael, com­pris­ing about 40 per­cent of the coun­try’s se­nior cit­i­zens. About 60,000 sur­vivors are thought to live be­low the poverty line, lack­ing money for med­i­cal aid, psy­cho­log­i­cal treat­ment and in some cases, food.

“The gov­ern­ment of Is­rael de­nies the Holo­caust,” charged Yosef Charni, an 82-year-old na­tive of Poland who came to Is­rael af­ter sev­eral years at the Nazi con­cen­tra­tion camp of Tre­blinka. “The gov­ern­ment got bil­lions of dol­lars in repa­ra­tions, but they don’t care about us.”

Crit­ics main­tain that more of the nearly $80 bil­lion in repa­ra­tions that Is­rael has re­ceived in com­pen­sa­tion from Ger­many should have gone to the sur­vivors. A large per­cent­age of the money, which was paid be­gin­ning in the 1950s as Is­raelis strug­gled to build their fledg­ling state, went to the mil­i­tary and for in­fra­struc­ture.

Many of the sick sur­vivors suf­fer from phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal dam­age that can be di­rectly traced to their or­deals dur­ing World War II.

“A state can­not be called a Jewish state if this is the way it treats its sur­vivors,” par­lia­ment mem­ber Rabbi Michael Mel­chior said at the protest. “We can’t com­pen­sate, but we can help soothe them.”

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