The Knesset's Labor, Welfare and Health Committee was taken to task on Monday during a special hearing on the red tape facing Holocaust survivors. During the meeting, 83-year-old Dora Roth admonished lawmakers for failing to deliver on their promise to increase the availability of government resources and to streamline the funding mechanism for entitlement recipients.
The hearing was called to discuss the troubling statistics on the condition of Holocaust survivors in Israel.
According to the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel, 20 percent of survivors cannot afford food at some point during the year because of their dire financial situation, and one out of every eight survivors cannot afford the medication they require.
Health-related problems represented the greatest challenge for 49% of survivors, and 37% said they were in dire financial straits.
"What you are doing to Holocaust survivors is a crime; let us die with dignity," Roth told the MKs in what was described as an emotional session.
Roth provided examples of the travails of Holocaust survivors in Israel.
"When a Holocaust survivor cannot feed himself, that is shameful. I was hungry six years; I kept on dreaming I was eating bread," Roth said. "Seeing on television a Holocaust survivor who cannot afford heating during the winter or a survivor who cannot buy food is a disgrace that you are responsible for, in this building. This is shameful."
Roth recounted how she was born "to a Zionist family in Warsaw; my father was killed in Ponary [site of a large Nazi-perpetrated massacre], and I was sent to a concentration camp, where I stayed six years. I was shot by the Germans twice in the back on the last day of the war. I stayed four more years in an Italian hospital."
"What did you do with the money? This is my money," she attacked lawmakers. "You did not consult me before you distributed it. I am very happy that we have this hearing, and I came from Tivon to talk with you about it. Let us die with dignity, without having hearings." Roth was referring to the alleged mishandling of funds earmarked for Holocaust survivors.
"I cried all the way home, not because I am a Holocaust survivor but because I could finally share my feelings with the MKs," Roth told Israel Hayom after the meeting. "I spent six years in a concentration camp and managed to survive. I don’t believe anything will change because nothing has changed all these years.
"It is an open secret that Holocaust survivors are impoverished; I see this, but I have so far not seen a willingness on the part of the state to help them. I hope those who are dependent on it will get something. Holocaust survivors have to undergo this whole ordeal with all the paperwork even while they are sick, and at the age of 90 they are not fully equipped to do that."
Committee Chairman Haim Katz (Likud-Beytenu) said "it is about time we walk the walk, not just talk the talk." He said he would sponsor a bill that would be based on a 2008 report on welfare-dependent Israelis (known as the Itzkovitz report) and he suggested other lawmakers join the cause.
"I would like the Knesset presidency to expedite the legislation on this matter to help the Holocaust survivors while they are still with us," he said. "Time is of the essence because in 15 years there will be no one left to receive the funds."
Welfare and Social Services Minister Meir Cohen (Yesh Atid) echoed the sentiments of his colleague, saying, "I am shocked that no one has taken on this issue; I am willing to take it upon myself to chase Finance Ministry officials until they expand the benefit package."
Cohen said he would vote in favor of Katz's proposed bill.
"While cuts must be made here and there, we must not touch Holocaust survivors' entitlements; it is unthinkable to have impoverished Holocaust survivors amongst us," he said.
Health Minister Yael German said she would also take part in trying to better the situation. Avi Dichter, who heads the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel said that "eradicating poverty among Holocaust survivors is not complicated; we can always put off investments on infrastructure and water desalinization, because there is always time to do that; but when it comes to Holocaust survivors we will never be able to undo what has been done to them."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with Roth on Monday night, and said he would like to meet with her and devise ways to "help Holocaust survivors."
Katz announced on Monday that the Health and Finance Ministers had agreed to appropriate about 6 million shekels ($1.67 million) in supplemental funding for the sake of covering health-related expenses and a prescription drug benefit for needy Holocaust survivors.