World Jewish Congress

World Jewish Congress

The World Jewish Congress (WJC), is an international federation of Jewish communities and organizations. Its headquarters are in New York City, USA; its research institute is located in Jerusalem. It maintains international offices in Paris, France; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Geneva, Switzerland; and most recently, in Miami, Florida.

Organization

The WJC is made up of five regional branches: North American Jewish Congress, the Latin American Jewish Congress, the European Jewish Congress, the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress and the Israel Branch of the WJC. Besides that, Jewish communities in over 80 countries are directly affiliated to the World Jewish Congress.

In 1951, Nahum Goldmann, then president of the WJC, cofounded the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany -the Claims Conference, as a body to engage the German government in negotiations for material compensation for Jewish victims of Nazi persecution. The World Jewish Congress designate two members to the Board of Directors of the Conference.

In 1992 the WJC established the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) as an organization for the restitution of Jewish property in the rest of Europe (outside Germany). It has been active in the claims against Swiss banks.

In 2000 the World Jewish Congress shaped the policy debate about looted art by criticizing museums "for waiting for artworks to be claimed by Holocaust victims instead of publicly announcing that they have suspect items." [CNN. Manhattan museum plans to issue Holocaust looted-art study. March 2, 2000, Available: http://archives.cnn.com/2000/STYLE/arts/03/02/holocaust.art.reut/]

The WJC is involved in inter-faith dialogue with Christian and Muslim groups. [http://www.wjc.org.il/publications/dialogues.html] . One of its major new programs is concerned with the plight of Jewish refugees from Arab lands.

Another program of the WJC is to send the 200 Jews of Suriname Passover supplies each year, since the 1980s.

Presidents of World Jewish Congress :
* Stephen S. Wise : (1936 - 19 Apr 1949)
* Nahum Goldmann : (1949–1977), (acting to 1955)
* Philip M. Klutznick : (1977–1979)
* Edgar M. Bronfman : (1979 - June 2007) , (acting to 1981)
* Ronald S. Lauder : (June 10, 2007 - )Stephanie Strom. Cosmetics Heir to Lead World Jewish Congress. New York Times. June 11, 2007, Available: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/11/us/11jewish.html]

Finances and allegations of irregularities

The organization, founded in 1936 in Switzerland, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, the World Jewish Restitution Organization, and the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims, founded in 1998, have secured millions of dollars for the victims and survivors of the Holocaust in payments from Germany, Swiss banks, Insurances and other parties totaling $20 billion.Andrew Buncombe. Holocaust fund investigated for 'unusual' money transfers. "The Independent". January 1, 2005, http://news.independent.co.uk/world/americas/story.jsp?story=597158 (URL expired)] [Amiram Barkat. World Jewish Congress fires chairman Israel Singer in surprise move. Haaretz. March 15, 2007, Available: http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/838311.html] According to the Independent, a series of allegations about the organization's accounting practices and "unusual" money transfers, raised by Isi Liebler, the WJC's senior vice-president, led to a full scale investigation of the finances of the World Jewish Congress.

Although most of WJC's income comes from thousands of small donations, the organization is struggling. The New York Times states that "Donations fell in 2005, and, according to its financial statements, its expenses were $17 million and its revenues were $9.4 million."Stephanie Strom. World Jewish Congress Dismisses Leader. New York Times. March 16, 2007, Available: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/16/us/16jewish.html] A professional fund raising company, using direct mail fund-raising, yielded a projected $8.15 million [USD] while charging an annual fee of $3.5 million.Amiram Barkat. Where was Edgar Bronfman? Haaretz. February 23, 2007, Available: http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/828961.html] A comprehensive audit of the WJC's accounts in Switzerland from 1995–2004, conducted by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, an accounting firm, found that "over the years $3.8 million 'disappeared' from the bank accounts" and that there were "significant un-reconciled cash withdrawals where there is no documentation of the usage of the funds."Nathaniel Popper. WJC Audit: $3 Million Unaccounted For. The Forward. November 03, 2006, Available: http://www.forward.com/articles/wjc-audit-4-million-unaccounted-for/]

Rabbi Israel Singer was dismissed after a tumultuous period for the organization when its Swiss affiliate discovered that 1.2 million USD were involved in suspicious money transfers between accounts in New York, Switzerland and London to a WJC numbered bank account at a UBS branch in Geneva. The Geneva office was not aware of the account and until "the manager, Maya Ben-Haim Rosen, received a bank statement showing that a UBS account she was unaware of had been overdrawn by $40 when Mr. Singer transferred the money" to Zvi Barak, an Israeli lawyer.Stephanie Strom. Spitzer Looking Into World Jewish Congress. New York Times. December 31, 2004, Section A, Page 22, Column 4, 796 words] The money was recovered but the entire affair led to deeper investigations about the organizations finances as well as lavish travel and other expenses incurred by Mr. Singer.

Haaretz reported that the name of the organization "was associated with financial irregularities, corruption and endless power struggles." New York State attorney general Eliot Spitzer conducted a comprehensive audit of the WJC over a two-year period and on January 31, 2006 entered into an Agreement of Discontinuance with the WJC, resolving the investigation and summarizing its key findings. According to the agreement, the investigation "presented the organization as one in which corruption had spread in recent years", identified financial mismanagement and breaches of fiduciary duty, but found no criminal wrongdoing and concluded that any misconduct “did not compromise the core mission” of the organization or result in “identifiable losses of charitable assets.”Ami Eden and Nathaniel Popper. N.Y. Probe of Charity Cites Mismanagement. The Forward. February 03, 2006, Available: http://www.forward.com/articles/ny-probe-of-charity-cites-mismanagement/] An article in the Haaretz points out that the Spitzer report neglected the audit of the WJC's accounts in Switzerland from 1995–2004 and did not include the most serious charges and accusations.

Despite vigorously defending Rabbi Singer during the Attorney General's inquiry, in March 2007 Bronfman abruptly announced the firing of Rabbi Singer. Bronfman accused Singer of stealing his money in an article published by Haaretz: "'Singer helped himself to cash from the WJC office, my cash,' wrote Bronfman to European Jewish Congress President Pierre Besnainou in a letter. 'The final blow came when we discovered that he was playing games with his hotel bills in Jerusalem.' ... [Singer] boasted of his ability to put one over on presidents and prime ministers, and with the same degree of pride enumerated heads of state as his personal friends. In retrospect, it has emerged that during the same period, Singer himself behaved as though he himself were a head of state, living ostentatiously at the expense of the donors to the WJC."Amiram Barkat. Members of the Tribe. The end of a beautiful friendship. Haaretz. March 25, 2007. Available: http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/841279.html] The Jewish Daily Forward provided more details between the "back-and-forth accusations" and denials "about which side leaked the material to the media". According to the article, WJC Secretary General Stephen Herbits accused Singer himself of leaking this memo to the media. Nathaniel Popper. Source of WJC Leak a Mystery. The Forward. March 30, 2007, Available: http://www.forward.com/articles/source-of-wjc-leak-a-mystery/] Subsequent press reports indicated that the memo was leaked from another organization unaffiliated with Rabbi Singer, suggesting that Mr. Herbits' allegations were incorrect.Nathaniel Popper. Lauder’s Foundation Paid Conference Leader $50,000. The Forward. June 6, 2007, Available: http://www.forward.com/articles/lauder-s-foundation-paid-conference-leader-50-0/]

However, internal WJC documents point to a different explanation for Rabbi Singer's firing. E-mails from Mr. Herbits' deputy, Pinchas Shapiro, to Rabbi Singer only days before his firing, suggested that friction had developed between Rabbi Singer and Edgar Bronfman over Rabbi Singer's position on various internal WJC political matters, including the perception that he was insufficiently advocating the candidacy of Edgar Bronfman's son Matthew to the presidency of the WJC. Nathaniel Popper. Ugly Allegations Fly as Fabled WJC Duo Splits. The Forward. March 6, 2007, Available: http://www.forward.com/articles/ugly-allegations-fly-as-fabled-wjc-duo-splits/] Indeed, Matthew Bronfman had for months been favored by his father and Mr. Herbits to become the next WJC president. A memo from Mr. Herbits to Matthew in late 2006 outlined a number of strategies for succeeding to his father's position. Among other things, the memo stressed the importance of ensuring the support of Rabbi Singer. Nathaniel Popper. Bronfman Resigns as WJC President. The Forward. May 7, 2007, Available: http://www.forward.com/articles/leaked-wjc-memo-slurs-european-jewish-leader-reve/]

The New York Times wrote in May 2007, that "Edgar M. Bronfman Sr., the billionaire liquor magnate who is its largest patron, had resigned as its president" because of the turmoil. [Stephanie Strom. President of Jewish Congress Resigns After 3 Years' Turmoil. New York Times. May 8, 2007, Section A, Page 16, Column 4, 643 words] The Jewish Daily Forward points out, that the resignation ended "one of the most prolific and controversial tenures in American Jewish communal Leadership... The move follows three years of internecine fighting at the WJC, which included an investigation by the New York attorney general and more recent divisions between Bronfman and the organization’s affiliates across the world.".Nathaniel Popper. Bronfman Era Ends at World Jewish Congress. Jewish Daily Forward. May 11, 2007, Available: http://www.forward.com/articles/bronfman-era-ends-at-world-jewish-congress/]

Another investigation against the World Jewish Congress is still ongoing, this time by the federal Internal Revenue Service.

Controversy and internal conflicts

The presidency of the World Jewish Congress is one of the most important and prestigious positions in the world of Jewish organizations. The "presidency of the Congress provided Bronfman with prestige and in return it received strong financial backing and generous funding from him. Nevertheless, documents that have reached Haaretz indicate that in practice, for the great honor that came his way, Bronfman paid far smaller sums than what many had thought until now."

Bronfman's status within the organization allowed him to promote Rabbi Israel Singer's position in other organizations, such as president of the Jewish Claims Conference and chairman of the board of the World Jewish Restitution Organization. Other senior officials who left the World Jewish Congress received retirement grants of $1 million each. The accountant of the Geneva office of the World Jewish Congress had been paying himself around $1,900 more than his approved salary. Not only senior officials but also associates of the World Jewish Congress received large compensations. Curtis Hoxter, the owner of a public relations firm that provided services to the WJC, was paid around $200,000 a year during 2001–2003. The Spitzer report points out that "the WJC did not report these payments to the U.S. tax authorities. Hoxter told Haaretz that he did no work for the Congress in those years, and claimed he did not receive any payment. The documents indicate otherwise."

Rabbi Israel Singer, in the position as the president of the Claims Conference, "an umbrella organization that has paid millions of dollars to the March of the Living, a Holocaust education group that brings students to Poland and Israel ... began payments to Hoxter totaling $709,000 in 2003. That was the same year Singer 'was instructed to stop funneling unauthorized payments to him via the World Jewish Congress ‹ payments that had by then totaled $657,600,'"'Zionist' offensive. Jewish Week. Online Edition. May 9, 2007, Available: http://www.washingtonjewishweek.com/main.asp?SectionID=30&SubSectionID=28&ArticleID=7103&TM=51269.98] Singer denied the accusations and Hoxter states that he can not state the specifics of his position. In an Article of the Jewish Week Israel Singer is cited with the following statement: "I'm not involved in allocating Claims Conference funds and certainly have no say or interest in any consultants that grant recipients might choose to hire. ...""I have no idea. I have no recollection. It was just something I assisted on. I prefer not to go into any details. It was not a major activity. I’d have to check my records.” [Larry Cohler-Esses and Ran Dagoni. Holocaust Cash Went To Shadowy Pal Of Ousted WJC Leader. The Jewish Week. May 4, 2007, Available: http://www.thejewishweek.com/news/newscontent.php3?artid=14012]

Several internal disputes of the World Jewish Congress followed within the last decade. The firing of Rabbi Israel Singer has been associated with the internal power struggles on Bronfman's behalf - according the a March 25, 2007 article published by Haaretz "Singer told Bronfman that he wasn't prepared to fight Jews". A leaked document indicates, that Steven Herbits, the WJC’s secretary general, worked behind the scenes to "pave the way for Matthew Bronfman’s ascension. Now members of the steering committee say that the younger Bronfman is not being considered as a potential candidate." Another reason for Singers dismissal was that "he did not devote himself sufficiently to the election of Bronfman's son Matthew as the next president of the WJC." The dismissal of Singer became the issue of heated discussions within the Jewish community; several letters to the editors of the Jewish Press discuss the dismissal and the "old boy network": "The Israel Singer debacle made me think about the process by which people become leaders in the Jewish community. Edgar Bronfman’s big bucks enable him to take over the World Jewish Congress, and Israel Singer becomes a leader in that organization because his then-friend Edgar Bronfman makes him one." [Letters to the editor. The WJC/Israel Singer Controversy. The Jewish Press. April 12, 2007. Available: http://www.jewishpress.com/page.do/21235/Letters_To_The_Editor.html]

The lawsuits, corruption and internal power struggles affected the work, influence and unity of the entire organization. After the firing of Singer, marking "an all-time low in the history of the organization"Alan Cooperman. Longtime Leader Quits International Jewish Group. Washington Post. May 8, 2007; Page A08, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/05/07/AR2007050701721.html] , the World Jewish Congress even stopped funding its Israeli Branch, which resumed after the resignation of Bronfmann "with a resumption of funding for the Jerusalem office and 'restoration of normal relationships' among its affiliates."

Waldheim Affair

In 1986 was proposed by the World Jewish Congress that Austrian President Kurt Waldheim had lied about his service as an officer in the mounted corps of the SA, and his time as an ordnance officer in Saloniki, Greece, from 1942 to 1943. Waldheim called the allegations "pure lies and malicious acts". Nevertheless he admitted that he had known about German reprisals against partisans: "Yes, I knew. I was horrified. But what could I do? I had either to continue to serve or be executed." He said that he had never fired a shot or even seen a partisan. His former immediate superior at the time stated that Waldheim had "remained confined to a desk". Former Austrian Jewish chancellor Bruno Kreisky called the World Jewish Congress's actions an "extraordinary infamy" adding that in election, Austrians "won't allow the Jews abroad to order us about and tell us who should be our President.".

Racist Remarks by WJC Officials

Stephen E. Herbits, the Secretary-General of the New York-based World Jewish Congress made several racist remarks and ethnic slurs in an internal memo against the president of the European Jewish Congress Pierre Besnainou: "He is French. Don’t discount this. He cannot be trusted, ... He is Tunisian. Do not discount this either. He works like an Arab." [Ratner, Lizzy and Anna Schneider-Mayerson. Memo from Old Rumsfeld Aide May Sink Bronfman Heir. Matthew Bronfman's bid to lead the World Jewish Congress is turning into a big mess. New York Observer, May 7, 2007, Available: http://www.observer.com/2007/memo-old-rumsfeld-aide-may-sink-bronfman-heir] The World Jewish Congress in Israel has condemned the statements as both hateful and racist. "It appears that the struggle in the World Jewish Congress has now turned racist, said MK Shai Hermesh (Kadima), who heads the Israeli board of the WJC. Instead of creating unity among the Jewish people, this organization is just creating division and hatred." [Lefkovits, Etgar. Top WJC official makes Arab jibe at EJC chief. Jerusalem Post. May 4, 2007, Available: http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull&cid=1178198609617]

Notes

ee also

*Reparations Agreement between Israel and West Germany
*Claims Conference
*International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims
*World Jewish Congress lawsuit against Swiss Banks

External links

* [http://www.worldjewishcongress.org The World Jewish Congress]
* [http://www.worldjewishcongress.org/communities.html Jewish Communities of the World]
*Craig Horowitz. Machers in Meltdown. New York. February 28, 2005, Available: http://nymag.com/nymetro/news/politics/international/features/11158/index.html


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