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October 26, 2014 / 2 Heshvan, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘World Jewish Congress’

A Fearsome Test For French Jews

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

France has a rich Jewish history and a vibrant Jewish community of approximately 500,000 souls. At the same time, France is a country where anti-Semitism has deep, seemingly immutable roots. Modern Zionism evolved partly as a reaction to the Dreyfus trial at the end of the 19th century, while in the middle of the 20th approximately 90,000 Jews were murdered during the Nazi Holocaust.

In our own time, France has provided fertile ground for Holocaust deniers, known in local parlance as negationistes. During the last 10 years we have witnessed a horrifying hate crime involving the kidnapping and murder of a young Jew, Ilan Halimi; an Islamist terror attack on a Jewish school in Toulouse that claimed the lives of three children and a rabbi; and a burgeoning anti-Semitic social movement that takes as its symbol an inverted Nazi salute known as the “quenelle.”

Small wonder, then, that French Jewish leaders are continually asked whether their community has a future in the long term. Nonetheless, it is a question French Jewish leaders answer with patience and good grace, as I discovered when I met in New York with a delegation from CRIF, the representative body of French Jewry.

At the head of the delegation is Roger Cukierman, the elder statesman of French Jews who was first elected as CRIF’s president in 2001. Sitting in the offices of the World Jewish Congress, where he also serves as a vice president, Cukierman was candid about the profound problems the community faces, while emphasizing its extraordinary durability.

“There have been Jews in France for the last 2,000 years,” Cukierman said, listing the names of Rashi, the great 11th-century rabbi; Michel de Montaigne, the 16th-century Renaissance author; and Marcel Proust, the 20th-century novelist. Even as he acknowledged the many instances of anti-Semitic persecution through the ages, Cukierman noted simply and proudly, “We are still here. And we are not the only country where anti-Semitism is developing. It may develop in America also.”

Still, there is a genuine urgency about the situation in France. A recent survey of global anti-Semitism issued by Tel Aviv University reported 110 violent attacks on French Jews in 2013 – the highest single number for any country. More alarming is the fact that though Jews make up just one percent of the French population, they are the target of 40 percent of racist assaults in the country. It isn’t surprising, then, that David Tibi, a Jewish leader in Paris, recently declared, “We no longer have a place in France.”

Cukierman is insistent that Jews do have a place in France, adding that anti-Semitism emanates from three distinct sources, rather than being a general phenomenon. First, there is the far right, traditionally the home of Holocaust deniers and Vichy-era apologists. Second, there is the far left, whose aggressive promotion of the BDS campaign against Israel “affects the comfort of living in France for Jews,” Cukierman said. Third, there are the banlieues, run-down suburbs that are home to disaffected Muslim youths who are frequently the executors of violent anti-Semitic acts.

Any mention of the banlieuesinevitably leads to a discussion of Dieudonne M’bala M’bala, the notorious comedian whose attempts at humor are often little more than crude Jew-baiting antics. It was Dieudonne who popularized the quenelle, the anti-Semitic gesture that became internationally known when it was performed by the French soccer star Nicholas Anelka, a friend of Dieudonne’s, during a match in England.

Among the numerous challenges in responding to Dieudonne is his appeal to young people in France, many of whom are attracted by his anti-establishment stance, his hatred of Israel, and his mockery of the Holocaust.

Lauder Raps Polish Forbes over Jewish Property Allegations

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

The World Jewish Congress slammed a Polish magazine report that alleged corrupt practices in the restitution and management of Jewish property in Poland.

In a statement issued Sept. 18, WJC President Ronald Lauder called the report in the Polish edition of Forbes magazine “littered with factual errors” and “sensationalist,” and its allegations “unfounded and slanderous.”

The Forbes report, published several weeks ago, comprised several articles that targeted the leaders of Poland’s organized Jewish community along with the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland, or FODZ, the WJC and the World Jewish Restitution Organization.

One of the articles described Piotr Kadlcik, the president of Poland’s Union of Jewish Communities, as one who “likes a drink or many and can often be seen on the street trying to find his bearings.” It called Poland’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, “the perfect rabbi to foster corruption.”

Another article accused Monika Krawczyk, CEO of the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland, as “charged by her employers, the largest Jewish world organizations, with selling and liquidating as fast as feasible the half of the restituted communal property she controls on behalf of those organizations, and with transferring the moneys to their bank accounts for further waste … to hell with Polish Jews!”

Lauder said he had to respond to the articles’ allegations in his position as chairman of the World Jewish Restitution Organization, or WJRO, as well as president of the WJC.

“To make it very clear,” he said in his statement, “neither the WJC nor the WJRO, of which the WJC is a founding member, have ever sought or received money coming from the restitution of Jewish property in Poland, as the articles suggest.”

The reports, Lauder continued, “are littered with factual errors, and it is lamentable that the authors did not bother to check the facts. This makes me, and many others, wonder if they approached the whole issue with the motive to portray the entire [Jewish] community in a bad light and perhaps to put a stop of the ongoing restitution process of Jewish communal property.”

In a related statement, the WJRO said it had “full confidence in the work of FODZ and its CEO Monika Krawczyk.” It said FODZ operates “in an open and transparent way and files annual audit reports with the Polish Ministry of Administration.”

The FODZ, according to the statement, “has only funded projects inside Poland and neither WJRO nor WJRO member organizations have ever received any allocations for projects or activities from FODZ.”

Pope Francis Conveys Rosh Hashanah Greetings

Monday, September 2nd, 2013

Pope Francis in a meeting with Jewish leaders sent Rosh Hashanah greetings to Jews worldwide and expressed “concern” at the ban on kosher slaughter in Poland.

At an audience Monday at the Vatican with World Jewish Congress heads, the pope said he was directing a cardinal to investigate the situation in Poland, where a ban has been in effect on ritual slaughter since January.

Francis met with a WJC delegation headed by the organization’s president, Ronald Lauder, who presented the pontiff with a kiddush cup and a honey cake.

A WJC statement said the pontiff and Lauder spoke about the situation in Syria “and agreed to speak out against attacks on religious minorities, such as Coptic Christians in Egypt and against trends to restrict well-established religious practices such as circumcision.”

In addition, according to the statement, “The pope specifically expressed concern about the bans on kosher slaughter in Poland and directed Cardinal Kurt Koch, the president of the Vatican’s Commission for Relations with the Jews, to investigate and host a follow-up meeting as early as next week.”

The WJC said the pope, using the Hebrew phrase “Shanah Tovah,” asked Lauder to convey holiday wishes to Jewish communities worldwide. The group said the pontiff reiterated a statement made last June that “a Christian cannot be an anti-Semite” and said that “to be good a Christian it is necessary to understand Jewish history and traditions.”

Referring to the conflict in Syria, “the pope called the killing of human beings unacceptable and said world leaders must do everything to avoid war,” according to the WJC.

Francis has met with Jewish leaders and representatives on a number of occasions since his election to the papacy in March. The WJC called it his “first private audience with an international Jewish leader” since becoming pope.

The delegation also included WJC leaders Robert Singer and Maram Stern and the heads of the Latin American Jewish Congress, Jack Terpins and Claudio Epelman.

Swiss Banks’ Holocaust Fund Has Paid Out $1.24 Billion

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013

Holocaust survivors and victims’ heirs have received $1.24 billion from a Swiss fund set up in 1998 following a scandal over dormant accounts of Jews killed in World War II, according to the Swiss  Jewish weekly Tachles.

It wrote that the figure appeared in a report by New York judge Edward Korman, who oversees the management of the fund.

Korman’s report summed up operations since a landmark 1998 deal between the World Jewish Congress and Swiss banks. Under the accord, the banks paid a $1.25 billion settlement, which was transformed into U.S. government bonds.

Payouts were then overseen by Korman and the Swiss-based Claims Resolution Tribunal, which wrapped up its operations in 2012.

All told, 457,000 Holocaust survivors and heirs have therefore received money from the fund.

Among them were 199,000 people who were pressed into forced labor by Nazi Germany, and who received a share of $288 million.

The banks were accused of keeping money owned by Jews who had hidden funds in secret accounts in neutral Switzerland but then perished in the Holocaust, and of stonewalling heirs who tried to track down the money.

Within the fund, a total of $800 million was destined for account holders and their heirs.

Claims Conference Looking to Quell Media Storm on 2001 Letter

Monday, May 20th, 2013

Amid calls that the Claims Conference bungled a warning in 2001 about fraud within the organization, conference, leaders appointed a committee to “formulate an appropriate course of action.”

The move, announced by board chairman Julius Berman in an email to board members on Sunday, followed an announcement by the World Jewish Congress that it was setting up its own task force to look into allegations of a cover-up by the Claims Conference.

The allegations concern an anonymous letter sent to the Claims Conference’s Frankfurt office in 2001 that identified five cases in which restitution was approved for ineligible claimants. The letter reached the organization’s then-director in Germany, Karl Brozik, who queried Semen Domnitser, the official in New York who approved the cases and who was found guilty two weeks ago of spearheading the $57 million fraud scheme that run unimpeded at the Claims Conference from 1993 to 2009. In his 2001 response to Brozik, Domnitser acknowledged that the cases had been wrongfully approved but led officials to believe that any errors were inadvertent. The fraud scheme continued to run for nearly a decade more.

Among those who were CC’d on Domnitser’s response to Brozik was the former chief of the conference, Saul Kagan, it’s then-chief, Gideon Taylor, and its current chief, Greg Schneider, whose formal title is executive vice president.

While a Claims Conference staffer who conducted an internal review for the organization in 2001 expressed serious concerns about Domnitser and other Claims Conference employees who reviewed and approved the fraudulent applications, the organization failed to take action against Domnitser.

In recent days, critics have accused the Claims Conference of orchestrating a cover-up of the episode. But Schneider’s office denies the accusations, noting that it was the Claims Conference itself — by way of Schneider — that shared the letter with the FBI and called attention to it during Domnitser’s trial to demonstrate how Domnitser systematically lied to his superiors.

Though Schneider was CC’d on Domnitser’s response to Brozik, a Claims Conference spokeswoman said Schneider did not see the original anonymous 2001 letter and at the time was not the person who would have handled the matter, because several people senior to him were involved. Ultimately, it was Brozik who elected not to inquire further into the irregularities, the Claims Conference said. Brozik is now deceased.

“I have asked our Chairman of the Executive, Amb. Reuven Merhav, to head a Select Leadership Committee of the board to formulate an appropriate course of action for the Conference with respect to the issues surrounding the 2001 letter,” Berman wrote in his email Sunday. “I look forward to its deliberations and recommendation.”

The $57 million fraud scheme discovered in 2009 involved falsifying applications to the Hardship Fund, an account established by the German government to provide one-time payments of approximately $3,360 to those who fled the Nazis as they moved east through Germany, and the Article 2 Fund, through which the German government gives pension payments of approximately $411 per month to needy Nazi victims who spent significant time in a concentration camp, in a Jewish ghetto in hiding or living under a false identity to avoid the Nazis.

In all, 31 people were arrested in connection with the scheme. Twenty-eight pleaded guilty and the three who went to trial were found guilty this month in federal court in Manhattan.

Antisemitism Is Rampant in Europe, Pass the Matzo

Thursday, March 28th, 2013

My job as employee of the Jewish Press Online includes going over stories put out by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (I’m also in charge of maintaining the office telegraph, which gets tricky on humid days, don’t ask). This morning, as I was going through those motions, I realized there was a common denominator to almost all the news items on display:

Three men believed to be linked to Mohamed Merah were arrested in southern France.

A major survey among Belgian teenagers indicated antisemitism was seven times more prevalent among Muslim youths than in non-Muslim teenagers.

The Greek Golden Dawn party has called for a boycott of Estee Lauder cosmetic products after World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder urged Greece to ban the neo-Nazi group.

A local authority in Switzerland has fired an employee who sent the Israeli embassy an email expressing joy about the death of Jews in a terrorist attack.

A Polish court has ordered a psychiatric examination of a man accused of planning to blow up the country’s parliament building because of “xenophobic, anti-Semitic ideas.”

That’s just since 3 PM Wednesday!

Now, it’s possible that it only looks to us, outsiders, as if Europe is in a 1939 time zone. It’s possible that Jews inside Europe are not nearly as concerned, because they don’t experience antisemitism directly. But that’s not what I hear in shul from French Jews who come to Netanya to vacation and to check out alternative housing while they’re here.

So, if this is 1939, why are we so blasé about it? How come Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu isn’t going to the UN to warn the world about it, the way he did the Iranian bomb? Seriously, folks, Europe is a place that can garble up Jews at a rate of thousands every day if we dare look away.

I have to say, if we’ve become desensitized to the signs of an approaching holocaust then we might as well be zombies, we might as well be dead.

And buy a lot of Estee Lauder products, if only to make up for the sales in Greek Nazi stores…

Letters To The Editor

Thursday, April 12th, 2007

Don’t Give Up Golan
   I hope Joseph Farah’s article on the Golan (“Whose Golan Heights?” op-ed, March 30) is widely read. The myth of Arab entitlement to the Golan is akin to the fables underlying Arab claims to the rest of biblical Israel. Farah should expand on what he wrote and The Jewish Press and other Jewish publications should run with it, since the debate over the Golan is fast approaching.
 
   Farah’s comment on Syria’s use of the strategic advantage of the Golan Heights to twice attack Israel should also be publicized. What other country has ever been asked to turn over to a sworn and bitter enemy such a strategic advantage?
 

Henry Kind

New York, NY
 

 

Church And State
 
   A news story in your March 23 issue (“Maryland Senate Rejects Get Law”) reported on the failure of the Maryland legislature to enact a get law you describe as a measure “that essentially would have compelled Jewish husbands granting their wives civil divorces to grant them a Jewish divorce (get) as well”
 
   The story went on to note the “profound disappointment” of Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, the executive vice president of the Orthodox Union, which supported the measure.
 
   Forgive me, but I thought a compelled get (get meusah) was invalid. I also wonder how a government law can force someone to perform a religious ritual.
 

Gloria Miller

(Via E-Mail)

 

Historical Parallel
   In defending Israel’s right to its land and opposing the concept of the two-state solution, we should emphasize the historical parallels between the U.S. in the Civil War era and Israel today.
 
   When the Southern Confederate states decided to secede, the North did not attempt to accommodate the South by agreeing to a two-state solution in the interests of peace, even though the South was never any military/terrorist threat to the North and never sent any suicide bombers or rockets against the North.
 
   The Southern states simply wanted to go peacefully their own way on their own land – their claim to which was certainly as good as that of the Northern states to their land. And there never was any dispute as to what constitutes the borders of the Confederate states.
 
   Yet the North attacked and invaded the South. The North did not compromise or make risky concessions for peace. They demanded total surrender. They invaded the South in an all-out, brutal, terribly destructive war, burning down many Southern cities, blockading and bombarding Southern ports, and completely destroying the South’s manufacturing and production infrastructure.
 
   President Bush and Secretary of State Rice are in effect telling Israel, “Do as we say, not as we – Lincoln and the Union states – did.
 

J.L. Greenberg

Seattle, WA

 

Thumbs Up
   I commend The Jewish Press on its editorial concerning the janitor falsely accused of violating a youngster (“The School Custodian Mistake,” March 30). I think it captured the complexity of an issue that requires prompt action on often incomplete information.
 

Rita Meyerowitz

Ramat Gan, Israel
 

 

Thumbs Down
 
   Once again The Jewish Press comes out on the wrong side of the abuse issue. If we are to err in a particular case involving charges of sexual abuse of children, shouldn’t we err on the side of a child who might have been abused rather than on an adult who might not have done it?
 

Shira Aronowitz

(Via E-Mail)

 


 

 

 

The WJC/Israel Singer Controversy

 

Singer Deserves Better
 
      As someone who has applauded the courageous stand taken by The Jewish Press against jumping to conclusions about the veracity of unproven accusations, I was sorely disappointed with your treatment of the WJC/Israel Singer matter. Mr. Singer has not been convicted of anything, yet you conclude that he is unfit for public service because of mere allegations made against him (“Israel Singer Redux,” editorial, March 30).
 
      Mr. Singer has done much for the Jewish community and he deserves better – certainly from a newspaper that prides itself as a staunch advocate of due process.
 

Samuel Rich

New York, NY
 

 

Red Flag
 
      You chide the Claims Conference for not getting rid of Israel Singer in the aftermath of his having been fired by World Jewish Congress president Edgar Bronfman. Yet in the same editorial you note that Bronfman acted only after Singer refused to support Bronfman’s son as his successor. Doesn’t this raise a red flag about the legitimacy of the charges against Singer?
 

Frieda Morgenstern

(Via E-Mail)

 

‘Arrogant Am-Haaretz
 
      So, Edgar Bronfman is to be believed over Israel Singer?
 
      Israel Singer is an Orthodox Jew, an ordained rabbi, and the man who actually put the World Jewish Congress on the map with his tireless efforts on behalf of Jews here and around in the world in the 1980′s and 90′s. Bronfman, on the other hand, has intermarried on more than one occasion; he’s just a rich man who used his billions to buy into the ranks of “Jewish leadership.”
 
      May I remind you of Bronfman’s own boorish and intrinsically un-Jewish mindset, as revealed in an interview he did with author Abigail Pogrebin and reported by your own senior editor, Jason Maoz, in an article on Pogrebin’s book Stars of David?
 
      “Synagogue bores me to tears. I don’t get any spirituality out of going,” Bronfman told Pogrebin. When she asked him if God gave the Torah to the Jews, he replied, “Please. Don’t try to give me any of that stuff.”
 
      And then, as Mr. Maoz so devastatingly related in his article, Bronfman, an arrogant am-haaretz if ever there was one, placed himself outside the camp of the God of Israel, declaring, “The problem is that in synagogue, we talk about this Avinu Malkeinu business ["Our Father, Our King"] all the time. I don’t do that. I mean, I can sing it, but while I’m singing it, I’m saying, ‘It’s not my father, it’s not my king.’ “
 
      The Wicked Son of the Haggadah couldn’t have said it better. So why should I care or give credence to anything a man like Bronfman says or does?
 

Jake Fruchtenbaum

(Via E-Mail)

 

Singer’s Good Works
      The hundreds of millions of dollars Israel Singer got for Holocaust victims – surely that counts for something, does it not? What about his pioneering work on behalf of Soviet Jewry? Or his aggressive pursuit of justice for Jews anywhere in the world for better than 30 years?
 
      Bronfman is just a dilettante who built on his bootlegger father’s fortune and realized that since money counts for everything in Jewish communal life, he had more than enough to sit at the table with all the other self-proclaimed “Jewish leaders.”
 

Brian Berger

Jerusalem
 

 

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.
 
      What you or I or any other Jew thought meant nothing at the time. Nor does it matter now. Jewish leadership is nothing but an old boys network. The fact that Bronfman and Singer had a falling out probably won’t affect Singer’s status at the Claims Conference – unless he gets into a personal tiff with one of the Big Boys over there.
 
      That the Claims Conference saw fit not to cut Singer loose when the attorney general’s findings raised serious questions about Singer speaks volumes about that group’s priorities. Singer must be on good personal terms with the powers that be at the Claims Conference – just as he was on good terms for so long with Bronfman, who also did not dismiss him at the time of the attorney general’s report.
 
      Personal relationships, power networking, wealth and titles – these are what make the world of Jewish leadership go ’round and ’round. Thus it has always been and thus it shall forever be.
 

Daniel Steinberg

(Via E-Mail)

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