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Jewish groups oppose Holocaust insurance bill

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Six Jewish organizations signed a letter calling on the U.S. Congress not to advance a bill that would reopen the Holocaust insurance assessment process. 

The American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, B’nai B’rith International, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, the World Jewish Congress and the World Jewish Restitution Organization condemned the Holocaust Insurance Accountability Act of 2010 in a recent letter to Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), chairman of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee.

The bill would allow Holocaust survivors to sue insurance companies in U.S. courts for unpaid Holocaust-era policies. Claimants previously had to go through the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims, which shut down in 2007. 

A number of Florida-based Holocaust survivor groups, backed by some state lawmakers and insurance commissioners, say ICHEIC was fatally flawed, unduly deferential to the insurers and paid out only a tiny percentage of liable claims. ICHEIC officials have said that the process was as pliant as the law would allow.

The letter from the Jewish groups said that the bill would harm negotiations with Germany, which contributes hundreds of millions of dollars for survivors living in poverty, by reopening previously settled agreements. 

“Many survivors wouldn’t receive anything in their lifetime" if the bill were to pass, said Roman Kent, a representative for the Claims Conference.  "If I go to court, it will take 10 to 15 years to get anything. So what practical effect would the bill have?”

Proponents of the bill say that Germany’s commitment to reparation payouts is ironclad in the law and would not be affected by reopening the ICHEIC process.

The signers of the letter said the bill may allow policies to be reviewed that were not purchased by Holocaust victims or have already been paid.

Information on insurance policies "would be provided without any prior vetting to determine if the policies were held by Holocaust victims,” the letter stated.

The letter also said that the bill’s “explicit disregard for Executive agreements entered into by the U.S. not only compromises this country’s role with respect to future agreements which are still needed, but also raises real questions about the ability of the U.S. to abide by its promises."

Proponents say concerns about the constitutionality of courts challenging U.S. foreign policy are unfounded.

A similar bill to reopen ICHEIC was introduced in 2007 but was voted down in committee. 

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