Only NIS 421 million out of NIS 1.65 billion dollars in Holocaust restitution funds held by Israel have been allocated, the Knesset’s Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee declared today.
The money, which has been collected by the state-run Company for Location and Restitution of Holocaust Victims’ Asset, is intended to compensate the heirs of the original owners of properties and other assets in Israel owned during the pre-state period by Jews living abroad who perished in the Holocaust.
In the seven years since the state’s establishment of the Company for Location and Restitution of Holocaust Victims’ Assets, NIS 1.65 billion in assets has been located and catalogued. However, a Knesset committee noted today that of the total, only NIS 421 million had been allocated by 2012. Over the course of the last year, NIS 49.8 million in assets have been returned to claimants. By this account, a substantial NIS 1.085 billion of the total remains in company hands.
In 2006, Knesset passed a bill leading to the establishment of the company in response to the problem of the real estate and financial assets of European Jews who invested in the establishment of the Jewish state, but perished before they could claim them.
After a long post-election delay, the Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee of the Knesset resumed discussion today about the restitution of over NIS 1 billion in assets to Holocaust survivors and families of victims.
The chair of the company’s board of directors, Micah Harish, explained that while the first stage of the company’s mission—locating and collecting assets—had been completed, much work remained on the second stage, dealing with restitution of assets to survivors and relatives.
MK Yaakov Litzman complained that the company has to date spent more on management costs than on restitution payments. As it stands, the company is allowed to draw an operating budget form 2% of the total assets held. Based on the 2012 end-of-year figure of NIS 1.085 billion, the state-mandated figure for the 2013 operating budget stands at NIS 21.662 million. However, company CEO Israel Peleg promised to distribute a more considerable sum of NIS 88 million by the end of the year.
In light of the gradual nature of the company’s restitution payments, concerns have abounded over the prospect of asset wealth being liquidated for uses not specified by the law. MKs Shuli Muallem-Refaeli and Merav Michaeli demanded that the company double its aid to survivors.
“The survivors are going and dwindling, and in not so long, there will no longer be anyone to aid,” they said.
Responding to this concern, Harish called for the assets to remain in company hands after its legally-mandated closing date of 2017, in order to ensure that remaining monies can be used to benefit survivors rather than state projects. To this date, there has been no official discussion of how to allocate assets remaining in the company’s hands after the statutory expiration of its mission.
Committee members stood divided over issues such as the distribution of prepaid monthly grocery cards of NIS 200 each for restitution recipients. In addition, they offered a chorus of suggestions for how to retool the relationship between the company and lawmakers over the course of the project’s remaining years.
MK Elazar Stern took it upon himself to negotiate with the Ministry of Finance over additional state support for the company, in an attempt to guarantee that assets will be distributed at a brisker pace. Pointing to numbers that suggested the company had spent 3% of assets on management costs in past years, MK David Rotem demanded that it by no means exceed the legally-imposed rate of 2%. MK Yifat Kariv asked the company to work toward synchronizing asset information with other organizations abroad in the business of locating lost assets in Israel.
Ultimately, members of the committee took time to praise the company for its work in locating and restoring significant sums of money to survivors and their relatives, and joined together in a call for cooperation between the Justice, Finance, and Welfare ministers in justly distributing lost assets to Holocaust survivors.