By Ori Lewis
JERUSALEM, Jan 7 (Reuters) - Israeli legislators voted on Monday to form an inquiry commission with executive powers to probe years of failure by the Jewish state to provide adequate financial help for needy survivors of the Nazi Holocaust.
Israel’s establishment in 1948 with international backing came after the arrival of hundreds of thousands of refugees and Holocaust survivors from Europe after World War Two.
Many of the survivors, now elderly and infirm, have complained for years of not receiving adequate funding to allow them to live out their remaining years in dignity.
"Holocaust survivors are tired of promises and they have been treated failingly for years," said Zvulun Orlev, who heads Israel’s parliamentary state audit committee.
Orlev said his committee voted to form the commission because Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s government failed to respond swiftly to a damning report by the state comptroller, who probes government departments and state-funded bodies.
Olmert said his cabinet had on Sunday approved a formula for paying out 2 billion shekels ($522 million) to survivors and that a transfer of money would begin "in the coming days".
"Every day of delay is an intolerable day and we will do all we can to ensure that the survivors benefit from the minimum which Israel has committed to provide after 60 years of ignoring the matter," he said on Monday.
Olmert said his government would cooperate with the inquiry commission. It has the power to order the removal from office of individuals found to have failed in their official capacity.
Orlev said the establishment of a state commission of inquiry through a decision taken by a parliamentary panel had happened once before, some 25 years ago.
State commissions are usually formed by the cabinet or by parliament and are often headed by Supreme Court judges.
The state comptroller’s report published in August said an estimated 250,000 Holocaust survivors currently live in Israel.
The accepted definition of a Holocaust survivor for the purposes of compensation is a man or woman who lived in a country occupied by Nazi Germany or under its direct control, or a person who escaped a country a little before or after the Nazis took control there.
The report said that currently some 50,000 get a stipend from the state and another 57,000 receive reparations from the German government but the remaining 143,000 receive nothing because they are not deemed eligible.
Basic stipends amount to a few hundred dollars each month.
Orlev said the number of Holocaust survivors are dwindling quickly and that some 40 of them die every day.
"I am ashamed as a Jew that this is the way the state of Israel treats these people," Orlev said. (Writing by Ori Lewis)