WASHINGTON (JTA) — The U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs unanimously approved legislation to allow Holocaust survivors to pursue civil action against insurance companies.
The Tom Lantos Justice for Holocaust Survivors Act, named after the late committee chairman, Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), was approved Wednesday and now goes before the full House of Representatives. The measure allows Holocaust survivors to make their case against Holocaust-era insurers in U.S. courts and to press insurance companies to release lists of policies from that time.
Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) co-authored the legislation. Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement that the measure was long overdue and "the last hope for Holocaust survivors to obtain justice."
Deutch said in a statement that “75 percent of Holocaust survivors live in poverty. We all have an obligation to help them live out their lives with dignity." He called the legislation "an important step towards letting Holocaust survivors pursue justice, but time is running out."
Holocaust survivor groups have championed the legislation. Opponents, including a number of national Jewish groups and the Obama administration, say the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims process may still consider claims despite being shuttered in 2007, but backers counter that the ICHEIC process was inadequate and allowed the insurance companies too much leeway to reject claims.
Some opponents also say the bill usurps executive branch primacy in determining foreign policy and would upend delicate negotiations with a number of European governments, casting a shadow over ongoing efforts to extract more compensation from the governments.
Efforts in previous Congresses to enact similar legislation never made it to the House floor, in most cases because it was stymied by House leadership through parliamentary procedure.