Israel Criticizes Report On Swiss Holocaust Funds

By Nathaniel Popper, With Reporting From Jta.

Published April 30, 2004, issue of April 30, 2004.

Lawyers for the State of Israel issued a strongly worded rebuke of recommendations submitted to a U.S. federal court last week on how to distribute any remaining money from the $1.25 billion Swiss bank settlement.

Israel sent a memorandum to the court Tuesday criticizing last week’s report by Judah Gribetz, the court’s “special master” or legal adviser, in which he rejected Israeli requests for 48% of any unclaimed money from Holocaust-era Swiss bank accounts.

In his report, Gribetz largely adhered to his previous recommendations that close to 75% of the money go to needy Holocaust survivors in the former Soviet Union.

Lawyers representing Israel argued that, “in major respects, the Recommendation does not adequately take into account the evidence and material” in dozens of proposals from representatives of Holocaust survivors that Gribetz received before writing his report. The Israeli motion was filed jointly with the World Jewish Restitution Organization.

The motion followed a special meeting in Jerusalem of Israel’s Ministerial Committee on the Restoration of Jewish Property, in which Israeli officials, including the minister for Diaspora affairs, Natan Sharansky, criticized Gribetz’s report.

The Israeli arguments will be heard at a public hearing on April 29, where the federal judge overseeing the case, Edward Korman, will consider all proposals on the distribution of the money. Korman had previously intended to make specific allocations of money at that hearing. Because of the slowness with which the Swiss banks have processed the Holocaust-era accounts, though, Korman and Gribetz have agreed that no decisions on funding will be made until the Swiss banks cooperate more fully.

In addition to whatever arguments are heard inside the courtroom on April 29, a protest outside the courthouse has been planned by the Holocaust Survivors Foundation–USA. The foundation objects to Gribetz’s judgment that less than 4% of worldwide survivor need is in America.

Another disputed segment of Gribetz’s report was his recommendation that no funds go to Holocaust research or education as long as Holocaust survivors have emergency needs. Elie Wiesel has submitted a letter to the court discussing the importance of remembrance.

The various survivor groups are vying for unclaimed money from the $800 million originally set aside in the 2000 settlement for Holocaust-era Swiss bank account holders. Korman has already decided that any unclaimed funds, which could total as much as $600 million, will go to the neediest Holocaust survivors.

Gribetz had anticipated that his judgments on the exact nature of this need would not be popular with all parties. But some American Jewish leaders said the vehemence of the response from Israeli officials was unexpected.

The Israeli memorandum argued that Gribetz “did not take adequate account” of demographic studies that showed higher levels of need among Israeli survivors. The memorandum also argued that, in calling for most of the funds to go to food rather than housing assistance, Gribetz “makes a distinction that should not be made among core life needs.”

In arguing for more funds, the Israeli memorandum painted a bleak picture of the current social welfare network in Israel.

“It is no answer to say that Israel has in place adequate social safety nets,” the memorandum argued. “Those nets are, sadly, straining under the great weight put on them, and they have been cut substantially.”



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