The cruel joke on Israeli Holocaust survivors

During the first 2019 election campaign, MK Bezalel Smotrich of the Union of Right Wing Parties (URWP) declared: «The State of Israel and the state of the Jewish people will return to be governed as it was governed in the days of King David and King Solomon by Torah Law.”

Human dignity (kvod habriot) is of utmost significance in Jewish law. Hence, among others, the imperative order commandment in Leviticus 19.18: You shall love your fellow as yourself .And precisely because human dignity is so important, the Talmud describes the numerous enactments and laws designed to insure, among others, that poor people were not embarrassed.

I have yet to encounter the kind of right-wing- coalition democratic government of the hue that governs Israel under Netanyahu’s tenure as Prime Minister that respects the human dignity of the old, the needy and the poor and adequately provides for their needs.

Israel is no exception, as demonstrated by the long standing disgraceful disregard for the dignity of the Holocaust survivors and the chronic failure of the government to insure that they are provided with their just entitlement to the compensation owed to them under the German-Israel Reparations Agreement   of 1952. According to Gidon Ben-Zvi, Jerusalem correspondent for The Algemeiner (U.S.), the reparations paid to date exceed $78 billion.

Ben-Zvi  points out that “in 2016, the Israeli government published a report finding that 20,000 survivors in Israel had never received the assistance owed to them…..the bureaucracy and the multiple agencies dedicated to Holocaust  restitution created  a situation in Israel where survivors go hungry and suffer from cold and neglect.”

In 2017, Israel’s   State Comptroller issued a scathing report that paints a shocking picture of the government’s failure to provide proper help to the Israeli Holocaust survivors.

In April 2018, Aviva Silberman, founder and executive director of Aviv LeNitzolei Ha Shoah (Spring for Holocaust Survivors) a non-profit organisation dedicated to helping survivors in Israel realise their rights, stated:” ….more than half [Holocaust survivors] are unaware of the rights and benefits to which they are legally entitled…That could, if realised, mean the difference between a life of poverty and a life of dignity and well-being. To illustrate the magnitude of the latter problem, Silberman said that “over the course  of a decade,[her] organisation has been able to help more than 60,000 survivors, gaining rights and benefits for them that are worth more than NIS350 million.”

Despite the magnitude of the reparations paid, Ben-Zvi reports that, a quarter of the approximately 200,000 survivors in Israel, live in poverty. I would add that  in the light of Silberman’s statement, since the  total number of survivors involved would have been have  been significantly higher in the preceding years and decades, so would have been the numbers of  survivors living in poverty  would have been significantly higher.

Ben-Zvi further points out that, the reparation payments are not sent directly to the survivors but instead are channelled through the Israeli government and Jewish Claims Conference with disastrous results.” Last but not least,” Organizational overhead is estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars-money that was supposed to go to the Holocaust survivors.”

Irony of ironies, the members of the religious parties that are a critical part of the Netanyahu coalition  governments -not to mention the religious members of Likud, the very folks who should be the first to obey and act  in strict accordance with the religious commandments concerning  the respect of human dignity  of needy and persons  and the duty to see that justice is done, have done nothing, proposed  and championed no laws to rectify the government’s mistreatment of the Holocaust survivors, failure to respect their dignity, to insure that they receive their  full legal entitlements, and  to be afforded the right and proper care.

That should not come as a surprise. According to a large-scale survey conducted among a sample of 1010 Israeli Haredi by Professor Tamar Hermann and Orr Inbari of the Guttman Centre for Public Opinion Research and policy, 40% of the respondents do not see Holocaust Remembrance as a day of mourning to them, while another 26% do not “agree so much” that it is a day of mourning. Compared to more than half of the subjects of the older generation,  aged 56 and over , who see the Holocaust Day as a day of mourning, only a third of the younger generation ages 18-24 see it as an occasion for mourning.

Those are the same folks who never stop seeking  generous  financial assistance to themselves and to their respective institutions; who prioritise their religious beliefs, practices and rights over their respective religious obligations to their fellow citizens, and to the State and refuse to serve in the IDF.

All of which brings me to the question to Smotrich: which version, interpretation and application of the Torah does he propose to restore as the law of Israel?

Decidedly, Israel, as democratic right-wingers’ and religious parties’ Promised Land is hardly the right candidate to be governed by the Torah.

About the Author
Doğan Akman was born and schooled in Istanbul, Turkey. Upon his graduation from Lycee St. Michel, he immigrated to Canada with his family. In Canada, he taught university in sociology-criminology and social welfare policy and published some articles in criminology journals After a stint as a Judge of the Provincial Court (criminal and family divisions) of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, he joined the Federal Department of Justice working first as a Crown prosecutor, and then switching to civil litigation and specialising in aboriginal law. Since his retirement he has published articles in Sephardic Horizons and e-Sefarad and in an anthology edited by Rifat Bali titled This is My New Homeland and published in Istanbul.
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