AN Israel-based legal activist organisation is urging Australian survivors and their descendants to join its class action program against insurance companies whose Holocaust-era antecedents failed to pay out on policies held by displaced and murdered European Jews.
Israeli attorney and human-rights advocate Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, founder of Shurat HaDin Israel Law Centre, told The AJN its initiative, Project Last Chance, will pursue insurance companies that used the chaos of World War II and the Shoah to avoid paying claims to victims, survivors and their heirs.
“My mission now is to get the victims some compensation towards the end of their life. This is money that’s owed to survivors, it’s their money. When you insure your assets – your house, your life – it’s your money and nobody is entitled to take it away from you … It belongs to the Jewish people, it belongs to Holocaust survivors.”
Darshan-Leitner said US Senate estimates indicate up to $US200 billion in payouts were withheld from Jewish policyholders by delinquent WWII-era insurance companies, many with traceable successor entities in today’s marketplace which have inherited these liabilities.
Shurat HaDin is leveraging its expertise in pursuing financial institutions such as banks harbouring the assets of terrorist organisations.
“We’ve brought legal action against countries, against banks, against companies that have been aiding and abetting terrorism. We have the expertise and we’re not afraid to take on countries, big companies or huge international banks,” she said.
Separately, Shurat HaDin is launching legal action in Israel to unlock a database of some 140,000 Holocaust survivors and descendants – who have listed around two million assets – under Israel’s Project Heart from 2011-14. The Israeli government, in coordination with the Jewish Agency for Israel, invited applicants into the restitution program, but the scheme was abruptly ended, leaving registered participants in limbo.
Shurat HaDin approached the government but has had no response. However, Israel’s Labour and Social Services Ministry said Project Heart was never intended as an individual claims scheme, so claimants’ details cannot be released. One theory is that Israel underestimated the intransigence of European governments when faced with lists of hundreds of thousands of claimants.
But if their identities are released to Shurat HaDin, the Project Heart participants could become applicants in class actions launched under Project Last Chance, Darshan-Leitner explained.
She said Project Last Chance is taking a different approach to the Claims Conference, established in 1951, which has petitioned governments for Holocaust restitution, rather than targeting companies and firms directly.
Phone Shurat HaDin-Project Last Chance on +972-3-7514175; email [email protected]; fax +972-3-7514174
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