J’accuse! WZO Fails its Financial Responsibility to the Poorest Survivors of the Holocaust

Asia Komisarov, whose father was killed by the Nazis in Russia, survived and with her mother moved to Israel in the 1990s. She lived in a deteriorating flat in Jaffa until forced out when her landlords wanted to raise prices. Photo courtesy Association for Immediate Help for Holocaust Survivors.

Asia Komisarov, with her mother, moved to Israel in the 1990s. She lived in a deteriorating flat in Jaffa until forced out when her landlords wanted to raise prices. Photo courtesy Association for Immediate Help for Holocaust Survivors.

Money Due by Agreement is Withheld from Needy Survivors

The greatest historic statement condemning anti-Semitism that shook Europe is now leveled at the World Zionist Organization. Bank Leumi, one of the oldest and largest banks in Israel, was one of the last banks in the world to agree to compensate victims of the Holocaust for money abandoned in accounts. It wasn’t until 2010 that Bank Leumi came to a final agreement to settle an $80 million dollar claim by the Government of Israel with a payment of only $40 million. This settlement came almost 12 years after the Swiss Banks agreed to settle all claims.

Background

The story begins with the original Jewish Colonial Trust (JCT). JCT was established by Theodore Herzl before the creation of the State of Israel as a means to fund a Zionist bank that would be necessary to finance the formation of the State.

Among the millions of Jews annihilated during the Holocaust, were owners of the Trust’s shares. In 1951 JCT’s Israel subsidiary became Bank Leumi. To deal with the unclaimed shares, another company called the Jewish Colonial Trust Ltd. was set up to hold the original JCT shares that had not been claimed by survivors or their heirs.

The Reconstitution Agreement of the Jewish Agency in 1971 transferred ownership of the Jewish Colonial Trust to the Jewish Agency for Israel. In 2009 the Reconstitution Agreement was amended and as a part of that process the World Zionist Organization ceased to be a financial beneficiary of The Jewish Agency, and certain assets were transferred to the WZO. Among those assets was ownership of the shares of Otzar Hityashvut Hayehudim, the publicly traded company that owns Bank Leumi.

The WZO itself, as we have previously written, is governed by a cadre of 3rd rate Israeli political hacks. They owe their allegiance exclusively to the Israeli political parties that appoint them (in direct proportion to their Knesset representation).

According to public records, Reuven Shalom, an attorney and the Secretary General of the World Zionist Executive, serves as a director of the Otzar Hityashvut Hayehudim holding company since 2009. In February 2005, the WZO launched an offensive to avoid paying what was owed to survivors.

The WZO Fails the Decency Test

“I can now afford fewer medications for me and my wife, even though this harms our health,” 88-year-old Holocaust survivor Eliezer Tzinman told Haaretz. “I’ve stopped eating fruit and buy less food. We eat only bread since that’s all I can afford. If there is really cheap fruit on Fridays we get some. We don’t turn on the heat since we can’t afford the electricity.”

There are almost 190,000 survivors in Israel today. According to Government statistics 45,000 live under the poverty line, 11,000 of whom live in the worst of conditions. As of April 2016 the WZO, under the leadership of Avraham “Duvdev” Duvdevani, had not paid the 11,000 neediest Holocaust survivors for over 10 months. The WZO has prevented the sales of shares of Otzar/Bank Leumi that would pay the 2,700 shekel ($700), every three months, that was required to be paid by the settlement agreement, to those 11,000 neediest Holocaust survivors suffering the most.

The problem is a legal dispute, where the WZO is trying to force the Government Company for the Return of Holocaust Property (Hashava) to foot the bill. The WZO has a control share of the stock that allows her to veto all decisions of Otzar Hityashvut Hayehudim. The WZO has been able to stop Hashava from selling its own shares in the company.

With some survivors facing a bleak Passover, a one-time payment was brokered by MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) to relieve the distress of those caught in the legal dispute, which the World Zionist Organization (WZO) is not interested in resolving.

The WZO fight, led by Duvdevani, is designed around the premise that whoever has the money when the survivors die, will get to keep whatever is left. So why give up the fight?

How many survivors have died, while waiting to live out their lives in dignity, while the WZO dragged its feet and dawdled?

There have been no payments since Passover.

The Height of Hypocrisy

Avraham Duvdevani has dedicated his life to Zionist endeavors: Co-Chairing KKL, Chairman of the WZO Settlement Division, working in the Jewish Agency for Israel and now as Chairman of the World Zionist Organization. Now, under his leadership, the WZO has failed to pay survivors the money that was due them by legal agreement. In the height of hypocrisy, Duvdevani is the Chairman of the Jewish Agency’s Holocaust Restitution Committee. In a bizarre arrangement with Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky, Duvdevani, actually represents the Jewish Agency on the Board of the Claims Conference, despite the American WZO Affiliate, having its own two representatives on the Board.

On the Backs of the Survivors

According to the Forward: “Another Holocaust survivor, 81-year old Eliyahu Geller of Petah Tikva, said he and his wife received the equivalent of $1,847 a year in quarterly payments until they stopped recently. Geller used the money to pay for medications that were not covered by state health insurance. A survivor of the Transnistria Ghetto in Ukraine, Geller said he suffered from neurological problems that made it difficult to speak and walk, along with problems with his heart and eyes. He and his wife survive on $1,540 a month.”

“All of this is pretty modest but that’s the situation,” he said. “We’re not young anymore.”

The plight of these elderly survivors, deprived of a stipend to help meet their basic needs, has moved into Tel Aviv District Court.

Both the WZO and Hashava have committed themselves publicly, to reaching a legal settlement promptly, but no funds have been transferred to the survivors. Several Knesset committee sessions on the issue have also not succeeded in breaking the deadlock. Only through Gafni’s intervention was the one-time payment arranged before Passover.

A suggested option was that funds be transferred from the Jewish National Fund (KKL) until the dispute is settled. Its director agreed to do so after an appeal by MK Meirav Michaeli (Zionist Camp) but again the WZO blocked it and has refused to approve even a loan that would have paid the survivors.

Gafni has appealed to the attorney general to assist in finding a solution to the problem. “The WZO should allow the JNF to transfer these funds or come to an arrangement with the company for restitution,” he told Haaretz.

“We can’t continue with this foot-dragging. Every day there are fewer survivors. This is the weakest segment of society and the hardest hit among survivors, who have enough problems already.”

The WZO is suffering cash flow problems, but refuses to sell any of the shares of Bank Leumi, in order to pay the benefits legally due to the neediest survivors. They are speculating on the future value of the shares – on the backs of survivors, who are dying daily.

The official response of the WZO

The WZO has previously stated: “JCT was founded by Herzl for the realization and financing of Zionist activity and therefore we oppose the liquidation of its funds… this would damage the World Zionist Organization, who is doing the holy work world-wide combating against surging Anti-Semitism. We say to the Company for the Return of Holocaust Property (Hashava): – first you should distribute the money in your coffers before asking us.” (source)

Emile Zola wrote “J’accuse” regarding the anti-Semitism laden in the Alfred Dreyfus’ trial – motivating Theodore Herzl to foment a modern Zionist awakening. The World Zionist Organization, under the leadership of Avraham Duvdevani, is not a worthy inheritor of that mantle while actively avoiding its responsibility for the greatest victims in the history of Anti-Semitism – survivors of the Holocaust.

The Funds in the Jewish Colonial Trust were never the property of the WZO (or The Jewish Agency); they were always the property of individual Jews investing in a commercial endeavor.

The neediest survivors must be paid today, so that they may live out their life with dignity.

By his actions, Duvdevani has proven he is not worthy to serve as Chair of the WZO. He needs to authorize payment of the neediest survivors’ pensions by the sales of shares immediately and follow the example set just yesterday by the UK’s failed Prime Minister, and tender his resignation.

Dan Brown is the founder of eJewish Philanthropy and a former Member of the Assembly of The Jewish Agency.

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