"I felt deeply ashamed, the situation we're faced with in terms of the conditions Holocaust survivors are living in is completely absurd," said Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog on Sunday as Israel prepared to mark its annual Holocaust memorial day.
Herzog was addressing the data presented to him at an emergency meeting summoned earlier that morning with representatives from the National Insurance Institute, the Ministry of Social Affairs, the Jewish Agency and officials from the prime minister's office to discuss the difficult situation faced by thousands of Holocaust survivors forced to make ends meet with minimal government stipends.
According to the updated figures presented to Herzog there are currently 250,000 Holocaust survivors currently living in Israel, some 20,000 of which receive reparations from Germany and an additional 40,000 receive stipends from the State, leaving over 180,000 survivors who receive no support.
"I ask myself - how did we get to a situation where they are not entitled to anything?" said Herzog, himself descendant from a family of survivors.
Herzog demanded that the Ministry of Finance immediately transfer control of survivor's affairs to the welfare system. Over the course of the following month Herzog intends to pursue legislation that would allow for a complete reform of the State's treatment of survivor needs.
"Now that I'm involved and exposed to this material I'm naturally affected by it and I really lose sleep over it," said Herzog. "You cannot place all the blame on the government, because there is a very long history here, a process that evolved over years. There were too many organizations that thought that the responsibility of caring for the survivors should fall on a different organization."
Herzog said he fails to understand how so many survivors are deemed ineligible for reparations or government support and are forced to live on a pitiful $300 monthly stipend.
One working assumption, according to Herzog, is that a large number of survivors are relatively new immigrants from the former Soviet Union who do not have personal savings and did not receive reparations from Germany. "This is making a mockery of the poor," said the minister.
Herzog has sworn to rectify the shameful situation.
"I don't want to make empty promises, but I intend to present a program that will deal with every necessary aspect of this problem. We need to move towards legislation that will merge all the bodies handling the needs of survivors so that the sole address with be the welfare ministry," he said.