This past June we noted here that the “stunning news that the Claims Conference secured a four-year $1 billion infusion of funds from the German government to aid Holocaust survivors has been largely overshadowed by criticism that those leading the conference mishandled an internal investigation into the embezzlement of $57 million by some employees over a fifteen-year period.”
As we said, “This is not to suggest that the theft of $57 million is an insignificant thing or that those who have been key to the conference’s achievements should be exempt from criticism or inquiry. It is to lament, though, that public discourse seems more and more driven by those with narrow perspectives and a penchant for ‘gotcha’ journalism.”
We went on to note that the new $1 billion funding had followed the securing over the years of the “staggering total of $70 billion” and questioned why there was the exclusive focus in some parts of the media on the $57 million, “particularly when several conference employees went to jail for embezzlement following a federal investigation materially aided by the assistance of the very conference leadership now being attacked.”
In an opinion piece last week in The Jerusalem Post, Julius Berman, the chairman of the Claims Conference (its full name is the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany) charged, among other things, “that the Claims Conference is being hounded by a few individuals who have been ‘careless with the truth’ – to put it mildly – during recent months.”
Mr. Berman further asserted that “These individuals have fed the media in general, and The Jerusalem Post in particular, a web of lies and distortions” and noted that “US Attorney Preet Bharara repeatedly and publicly thanked the Claims Conference for bringing the matter to the FBI’s attention…for their outstanding ongoing assistance and for its extraordinary continued cooperation in this investigation.”
He went on to say that “Unfortunately few, if any, bothered to ask for first-hand evidence, preferring instead to ride a wave of sensationalism….”
In a largely inexplicable editorial mea culpa, the Post said, in pertinent part:
We reject Berman’s claim that the Post was “careless with the truth.” We regret any harm done to his good name or to that of his organization….
If we omitted salient facts, we accept responsibility for this oversight. One such fact is that not one Holocaust victim was deprived of any funds.
The role of the Claims Conference in uncovering and investigating the misappropriation of funds was for the most part unacknowledged.
All parties that meticulously investigated fraudulent acts in the organization, including the FBI and the United States Attorney’s Office, have determined that the Claims Conference acted appropriately….
Additionally, the German government – the only party to have lost out as a result of the fraud – has given the Claims Conference a consistent vote of confidence. It continued working closely with the Claims Conference for the benefit of survivors, even while the investigation was ongoing. During negotiations with the Claims Conference last May, the German government agreed to provide an extra $1 billion over four years….
The Post prides itself on independent investigation and fair coverage. As much as we try in good faith, we do not always get the balance completely right, and when we err we are prepared to admit our mistakes and apologize as we do for any wrongdoing in our coverage of the Claims Conference.
So after saying they “reject the claim that the Post was ‘careless with the truth,’ ” the Post’s editorial writers proceed to acknowledge that the paper in fact “omitted salient points,” that it takes “responsibility for this oversight,” and that it permitted important aspects of the case to go “for the most part unacknowledged.”
At any rate, we trust this mealy-mouthed about-face will allow the Claims Conference to go about its important work free from at least some artificial roadblocks.