Lawmakers press for hearing on Holocaust insurance


WASHINGTON (JTA) — A dozen U.S. lawmakers called for a hearing that would allow litigants to make Holocaust-era insurance claims in federal courts.

"This bill would help Holocaust survivors and heirs recover on policies sold by insurance companies to their families before World War II, but where benefits have never been paid," says the letter seeking the hearing sent to Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

Nine Jewish members of the U.S. House of Representatives were among the bipartisan slate to sign on to the letter, which was initiated by Reps. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.).

The Holocaust Insurance Accountability Act, the latest iteration of similar bills that have failed to make it to full House votes, would keep courts from citing executive branch policy in denying such lawsuits.

The State Department and other agencies have referred litigants to the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims process, saying that to do otherwise would undermine American credibility in settling similar international disputes.

A number of potential litigants have objected, saying that the ICHEIC process addressed only a fraction of potential claims.

The congressional leadership has resisted advancing the bills in part because of the constitutional questions posed by a law that would mandate courts to ignore the executive branch on a matter of foreign policy. Additionally, congressional insiders said, however difficult the ICHEIC process is, it offers speedier redress than the courts, which can take years.

In addition to Schiff, Jewish members signing the May 12 letter included Reps. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), Ron Klein (D-Fla.), Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.).

The other signatories are Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the ranking member on the Foreign Affairs Committee who introduced the current bill in February, and Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.), who clashed with ICHEIC in 2004, when he was California’s insurance commissioner, over what he said was its slow pace and inadequate efforts in administering claims.

The bill has 28 co-sponsors, including Conyers.

Recommended from JTA