WASHINGTON (JTA) — A bipartisan duo from Florida urged Congress to act on legislation that would allow Holocaust survivors to pursue civil action against insurance companies.
During a June 7 news conference flanked by several Holocaust survivors, U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) emphasized that the unpaid insurance policies for Holocaust survivors “remain one of the starkest reminders of the devastation of Nazi Germany, and those who sought to profit from the crimes of the Nazis.”
Ros-Lehtinen appeared at the news conference alongside Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), her co-author of the Tom Lantos Justice for Holocaust Survivors Act, which was named the only Holocaust survivor to serve in Congress.
Lantos, Ros-Lehtinen said, "lived and breathed human rights and justice and equal rights everyday of his life."
In March, the Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously approved the legislation. It awaits action in the House Judiciary Committee.
“It is far past time to bring this legislation, through the House, through the Senate, and to the president’s desk and give our survivors justice they have been denied for too long,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “And with most survivors in their 80s and 90s, we are running out of time to ensure that survivors see justice. We need to stand by them and the rights and protections that they deserve.”
Bipartisan efforts in previous Congresses to enact similar legislation never made it to the House floor.
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. 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.
Ros-Lehtinen and other supporters counter that the legislation simply allows fair access to the courts, and has no bearing on other negotiations.