Shoah Business and the King of Shnorrers
THE State of Israel was founded on the dispossession of the Palestinians. The entry of Avigdor Lieberman to the government is like a declaration of intent to continue the process. But Palestinians are not the only people whom the State has been ripping off. An article in Ha'aretz this week says Israel has behaved shamefully towards the Jewish Holocaust survivors on whose behalf it has claimed both moral authority and material aid.
Eliahu Salpeter says that besides the dreams of Zionist visionaries, the sweat of pioneers, and the courage of its fighters in the 1947-8 war, the State owed its existence to "the pangs of guilt over the Holocaust felt by the world, which voted in favor of its establishment in the United Nations in 1947".
Or as others have put it, Europe and the West unloaded their burden of guilt on the Arab world. Then in 1952 came the West German Reparations agreement, underwritten by the United States, which eased the Federal Republic's way to re-armament and NATO membership, and enabled the struggling Zionist state to develop its economic structure and military strength. Reparations were mutually beneficial, as when paid in kind, for instance ships built in West German yards. But what about those survivors?
Let's hear from Eliahu Salpeter:-
"However there was also another foundation that the victims provided: reparations Germany paid for murdering six million European Jews. The sum of $750 million in the 1950s would today be the equivalent of several billion dollars; this sum financed a very sizable portion of the young state's economic infrastructure investments. Among those who contributed to its establishment, Israel behaved most shamefully toward Holocaust survivors, the same handful of shattered people who chose to try to rebuild their lives in the Jewish state.
"It is perhaps possible to justify the fact that young people who had just stepped off the boat were sent directly to the front lines; it is possible, perhaps somewhat less justifiably, to argue that the Yishuv (pre-state leadership) was unable in the first few years to provide immigrants with more than a blanket, mattress, Jewish Agency standard issue bed and five liras. However there is no justification for the fact that Israel, after nearly 60 years of existence, has refused to provide survivors with the few hundred shekels they need for medication and the tax on television, which in the last years of their lives is just about their only means of entertainment and connection with the world.
"At the beginning of the month, the Finance Ministry announced it opposed a bill to grant benefits totaling NIS 65 million to survivors. It would be willing to transfer only NIS 7 million to them. Further discussion of the bill, which for the first time defines who is a survivor, has been put on hold as a result. "Israel is always dealing with the dead, but has forgotten about the living," Ze'ev Feiner, a spokesman for the Holocausts Survivors Welfare Fund, said earlier. And indeed, who ever thought in the early 1950s that the state's greed for the property of landowners who died in the Holocaust, for Waqf and church properties and for the homes of Ikrit and Biram would haunt the elderly Holocaust survivors in the early 21st century?
"How has it happened that it is better today to be a Holocaust survivor in the United States or France, not to mention Germany, than to be one in Israel? When considering the economic contribution to Israel, it is not just a matter of the reparations that Dr. Nahum Goldman and David Ben-Gurion obtained from Konrad Adenauer - tens of millions of dollars flowed into and through the Finance Ministry's coffers in Jerusalem. According to German data, Germany has so far paid over $60 billion to victims of the Nazi regime, some 85 percent of it to Jews. Each year it continues to pay around one billion dollars or so. However there are no precise figures on the sums arriving, directly or indirectly to Israel, where around half of the survivors live. According to a cautious estimate of the total sum, Germany transfers around $450 million annually to Israel. Most of the money goes to those receiving compensation, pensions and the like, but some of it is transferred via public institutions and transmitted as payments and services to victims. The same NIS 65 million that the Finance Ministry was asked to add, which it claims is an expense it cannot handle, is less than 4 percent of the annual sum the state receives from payments from abroad. As for the precise figures, there is a registry: Dovi Arbel, the executive director of the Holocaust Survivors Welfare Fund, estimates that of the 200,000 or so Holocaust survivors living in Israel, 20-30 percent are need of financial assistance, mainly for medical expenses. Other estimates refer to 20,000 Holocaust survivors living below the poverty line. Others, sometimes almost exactly the same sources at different times, refer to 280,000 Holocaust survivors, of whom some 80,000 live below the poverty line.
Though Israel has never formally defined who is a "survivor", and estimates of numbers vary, one thing that is known is that often, people who have suffered horrors in younger life try to forget while working and raising new families, only for the past traumas to return and haunt them later, adding to the normal health and care needs of the elderly.
"Some argue that with the aging of the survivors, health and welfare spending on them has increased (and therefore larger budgets are needed) and others respond that increasing numbers of survivors are dying each year (and therefore less money is needed for them). However, assistance for the needy among them is not the only area in which Israel is treating Holocaust survivors disgracefully. The mistreatment started with the 273 Tehran Children, who were forced to appeal to the courts because they did not receive the few thousand dollars the Finance Ministry allotted them from the German reparations.
"The mistreatment continued with the millions of dollars the banks did not return to heirs of Holocaust victims - victims who before the war deposited some of their money in financial institutions in Palestine. Bank Leumi recently announced it had set aside NIS 9.5 million for "adjusting" transfers that were too low, which it had at the time forwarded to the Custodian General. Tens of millions of shekels or dollars, depending on who you ask, is the value of the real estate purchased before the war by Jews who were killed in the Holocaust - money which to this day has not been handed over to their legal heirs. Given the experience with Swiss banks and other countries where property of victims or Jewish institutions remains, it is not hard to imagine the kind of scandal that would erupt if another country were to act in the same manner and engage in property theft (or foot-dragging before returning it) as Israel has.
"This is the same Israel, which provides a car allowance to clerks who do not have driver's licenses, pays hundreds of thousands of shekels for "appropriate" dress for the wife of the prime minister and allocates millions in field grants to thousands of officers who since their basic training haven't stepped foot outside their offices that are far from the front lines. The calculation is simple: The survivors are older and do not have the strength to protest. The Jewish organizations hold, without justification, that it is more important not to damage Israel's good reputation in the world by airing the outcries of survivors, than it is to ensure a little improvement in their living conditions in their final years. Some 10 percent of survivors die each year and the pace is increasing. They will not be troubling us for much longer".
For a handful of shattered people, little will do
By Eliahu Salpeter
And just to cap this unpleasant but necessary reckoning, on Friday December 1 the Jewish Chronicle reported that Israel is demanding a larger proportion of holocaust restitution money than that allocated to holocaust survivors in the diaspora: Israeli pensioners minister Rafi Eitan and the heads of leading institutions signed a joint declaration calling for 60 per cent of the grants made by the New York-based Claims Conference, the international body mainly responsible for distributing compensation payments.
“All the decisions come from America,” they stated. “It can’t be that they dictate to Israel what Israel needs.”
Cynics have accused some people and institutions in Israel and the United States with no moral claim or need of having done well out of the Shoah, the Nazi Holocaust; "There's no business like Shoah business". Even without going into the questionable role of Zionist organisations in Jewish resistance and rescue, it is possible to be sickened by the sight of youths paraded with blue-and-white Israeli flags, and even a triumphal fly past, at Auschwitz. (I finally understood why an old communist war veteran was fond of reminding us that "It was the Red Army that liberated Auschwitz".)
But this Israeli minister protesting indignantly that anyone in the United States should dare decide "what Israel needs" reminds me of a character invented by Israel Zangwill, himself a Zionist visionary of sorts as well as a popular humourist: Ever mindful of his importance, status and dignity, his highness, "The King of Schnorrers".