Holocaust survivors in Israel protest $20 stipends
( AP ) - Holocaust survivors in Israel demanded Sunday that the Jewish state raise what they consider a laughable new offer of $20 monthly stipends.
At least 500 of the elderly survivors and supporters rallied outside parliament, carrying placards and wearing stickers reading "The Holocaust is still here" and "Forgive us for surviving."
"The government of Israel has not recognized us. We don't belong to them," said Josef Charney, 82, who survived the Treblinka death camp.
Six decades after World War II and the Nazi killings of 6 million Jews, about 240,000 Holocaust survivors live in Israel. Many have long complained that Israel does not do enough to support them, and that they lack money for basics, sometimes even food. Some have said European countries treat them far better.
Last week, the government announced $28 million in new stipends for 120,000 needy survivors - about half of them now in Israel. That works out to just 83 shekels - or $20 - a month for each survivor.
Existing Holocaust survivor benefits are calculated by complex regulations depending on country of origin, where claimants were during the war, when they arrived in Israel, whether they received German government reparations and other criteria. The benefits come on top of state pensions and government health care available to all elderly Israelis.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the $20 supplement was a stopgap while the needs of the survivors are carefully analyzed, but many have deemed the measure an insult.
"We don't think that 83 shekels a month is enough," said Gal Rotem of the Holocaust Survivors' Welfare Fund, which helped organize the march. "You can't buy food or drugs or anything else with 83 shekels."
She noted the group was not growing, saying an average of 35 survivors die each day in Israel.
At Sunday's weekly Cabinet meeting, Olmert said the issue was "sensitive and painful" and acknowledged that previous governments had failed to address it. He said he would meet Wednesday with survivors' groups and government ministries to find the "best, fairest and most just solution," according to a statement from his office.
Sunday's protesters, however, doubted the government would act quickly.
"Until they say what the solution is, we won't believe anything else," Rotem said. "It's not a good feeling that Holocaust survivors have to walk and march to say to Olmert that they are still alive and need help."
Others expressed sadness that Israel has not helped survivors more.
Walking arm-in-arm with her granddaughter, 76-year old Brana Fogel said she entered the Auschwitz death camp with her six brothers and sisters. She and one sister survived. In 1951, Fogel came to Israel, where her whole family now lives.
"My revenge is to be here in Israel with daughter and granddaughter," she said. "But thinking about how other survivors live...my heart just hurts."
As the marchers listened to speeches by survivors, Sari Rivkin of Jerusalem leaned on a sign with three black and white photos of Holocaust survivors. As the head of an Israeli nonprofit, she said she had seen survivors have to choose between buying food or medicine.
"The government's response is to delay as long as possible, hoping the problem will go away," she said. "Unfortunately, these people are going away. They are dying every day."