The JTA reports,
An Israeli coalition including the Jewish Agency for Israel, Israeli Holocaust survivor organizations and the Knesset’s pensioner affairs minister is calling on the Claims Conference to give Israel a larger share of Holocaust restitution funds and more control over distribution decisions.
Leaders of the coalition announced Sunday that they were launching a unified effort to get the Claims Conference to recognize the centrality of Israel in its distribution of hundreds of millions of dollars in unclaimed Holocaust-era assets.
So just what does Israel get from the Claims Conference? These figures are estimates I have compiled from the current index of Claims Conference allocations.
- Adult Care/Old Age Homes: $2,500,000*
- Hospitals/Medical Care: $6,500,000*
- Assisted Living: $1,100,000*
- Soup Kitchens: $16,000
- Amcha: $2,100,000
- Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel: $24,300,000**
- Archives: $180,000
- Holocaust Education: $5,440,000***
- Research/Publications: $332,000
- Budget Subsidies: $245,000
*In all cases, less than 50% of the grantees’ clientèle are Holocaust survivors, and in some cases, that number is as low as 10%.
**The Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel receives an additional $25,000,000 in direct restitution for Germany and Switzerland, disbursed through the Claims Conference.
***Includes $1,440,000 for the Jewish Agency to educate Jews in Eastern Europe and the FSU about the Shoah, $400,000 for the inclusion of a Holocaust education track in Birthright Israel’s programing, and $800,000 for a Mi Bereishit sponsored hike from Yad Vashem to Masaada.
Estimated total of disbursements made by the Claims Conference to Israel for 2007-2008: $42,713,000
Compare that to the total amount of allocations in the 2007 Israeli federal budget for direct aid to Holocaust survivors in Israel which is, roughly, um, NOTHING.
There are 250,000 Holocaust survivors living in Israel, one-third of whom live below the poverty line. Since establishing ties with Germany in the 1950s (a move hotly contested in its day; see Segev’s The Seventh Million), Israel has received close to $80 billion in direct restitution — roughly $1.4 billion for each year of the State’s existence, or over $300,000 per survivor. The Finance Ministry claims to distribute $326 million to survivors every year (23% of annual restitution), however that amounts to mere $1,304 per survivor, which is about one-tenth of the average Israeli income.
A bill introduced in the Knesset this year would have increased that paltry sum by offering an additional $11 million in direct support to survivors. The bill, however, was killed in committee by the Finance Ministry, which instead, as part of Benjamin Netanyahu’s economic growth plan, opted to freeze aid to survivors, eroding their benefits by 1.65%.
So, tell me, who’s not giving enough?
The Claims Conference itself is, of course, by no means innocent. Its allocations process is abhorrently undemocratic, neglectful of needy survivors, and many of the disbursements it makes — particularly in terms of Holocaust education, which comprises 20% of total allocations — are impossible to justify and reek of political nepotism.
However, if you think things will get better for survivors with Israeli authorities in control of the coffers, you are sorely mistaken. That money will wind up anywhere but in the hands of needy Israeli survivors.