Candidly Speaking: Claims Conference self-aggrandizement (JERUSALEM POST OP-ED) By ISI LEIBLER 04/05/12)
JERUSALEM POST Articles-Index-Top
The management of the Conference on Material Claims against Germany
(Claims Conference) is ecstatic after having successfully forced two
Israeli journalists to publicly apologize and praise them.
In 2008, Israeli TV aired a program titled Moral Reparations – The
Struggle Continues, which bitterly condemned the management of the
Claims Conference for refusing to prioritize financial disbursements
to ameliorate the desperate plight of aging Holocaust survivors
unable to live out their remaining years in dignity.
The program was partly based on a report commissioned by the Jewish
Agency from forensic accountant Yehuda Barlev, but never released
after the Claims Conference stated that it would review its
allotments toward the Agency.
The Claims Conference sued the show’s producers Orly Vilnai and Guy
Meroz for libel, alleging that the program was “anti-Semitic” and
presented “a cruel and distorted calumny.”
In order to intimidate future potential critics, they demanded the
exorbitant amount of NIS 4 million in damages. Ultimately, presumably
at the behest of the insurance company reluctant to remain engaged in
lengthy and costly court proceedings, a settlement was negotiated for
a much smaller amount – NIS 150,000 – which it was agreed would be
donated to a Holocaust survivor fund chosen by the journalists.
In addition, the Claims Conference obtained a written apology
praising them for “acting tirelessly on behalf of the Jewish people”
and its “unprecedented contribution to assisting Holocaust survivors.”
However, while acknowledging that “in the course of our struggle to
correct what we saw as a historical and inhuman injustice... we
failed to present the whole picture,” there was no acknowledgement by
the journalists of any specific factual error in their film.
Moreover, as part of the settlement, Vilnai and Meroz insisted on
including a sentence stating that “the frustrating gap between the
desire to help Holocaust survivors which is shared by the entire
Jewish people, and the actual condition of Holocaust survivors
requires criticism – on occasion harsh if deserved – directed at
those who set policy in this area, as well as of those who implement
it, since this is a sacred task.”
The Claims Conference management is now exploiting this settlement as
a means of diverting attention from the legitimate criticisms and
increasing anger directed against them over recent years. Chairman
Julius Berman forwarded memoranda to the media and Jewish
organizations, exulting over the outcome, even praising by name the
senior officers conducting the costly legal campaign which had been
in process for years. He did not disclose how much money the Claims
Conference diverted from Holocaust funds towards this lawsuit.
In order to attempt to balance the equation, I would challenge Mr.
Berman and his Chief Executive Officer to respond to the following
issues which continue to concern Jews throughout the world.
• 1. In view of the pitiful state of the diminishing number of ailing
survivors, many of whom continue to be denied a dignified life in
their remaining years and cannot even afford to pay for basic food,
fuel and medical expenses: a) Has there been an independent review of
the existing allocations provided toward major charitable causes like
hospitals and Israeli infrastructure which do not directly benefit
survivors? Has consideration been given to prioritizing funds from
these projects toward survivors?
b)Will the Claims Conference consider temporarily freezing
allocations to all nonsurvivor related funds in order to at least
partially improve the catastrophic living conditions of these hapless
• 2. In February 2010, it was revealed that there had been a massive
theft of funds specifically earmarked by the German government for
Holocaust survivors. The Claims Conference initially specified that
the amount stolen was $350,000. But later it was reported that the
theft was in excess of the staggering sum of $50 million.
Last November Der Spiegel stated the sum had reached $57 million! It
was subsequently disclosed that six corrupt Claims Conference
officials, including senior employees working out of their own New
York head office, had been looting these funds for over 15 years –
under the very noses of the highly paid senior executives. Repeated
warnings that a single part-time internal comptroller was absurdly
insufficient for an organization handling billions of dollars were
ignored until it was too late.
Nobody can dispute that it was the responsibility of the Claims
Conference management to oversee the allocation of these funds. Yet
as of today, not a single person has accepted accountability. The CEO
even had the gall to insist that everything was in order because
there was no deviation from standard procedures. The management
adamantly refused to authorize an independent forensic audit in order
to evaluate what took place, ensure that no theft had occurred in
other areas and that appropriate precautions had been imposed to
avoid a repetition.
The issue was raised at the last Claims Conference annual meeting
and, after the chairman praised the manner in which his officers had
dealt with the issue, the board responded by enthusiastically
carrying a bizarre motion of confidence in their management.
It is inconceivable that any normal private or public institution
would refuse to accept accountability and fail to demand resignations
or at least censure of management after such a massive fraud has been
perpetrated on their watch.
The public is entitled to demand that the management reveal the
precise quantity of funds stolen and advise as to whether there is
any intention of introducing a genuinely independent forensic audit
to review the entire organization.
Or has the question of accountability for failure to implement
oversight over these funds now been permanently shelved?
• 3. The Board of Deputies of British Jews commissioned an
independent review (the Gruder Report) following complaints from
Holocaust victims that the Claims Conference lacked “transparency and
accountability” and had behaved unethically in the sale of Jewish
The report was highly critical of the Claims Conference’s moral
conduct, suggesting that reprehensible efforts had been implemented
to prevent heirs from recovering property stolen from their families.
The matter was raised at the last annual board meeting – and
dismissed by the chairman, who treated the request to review the
situation with utter contempt. Is this the last word on this matter?
• 4. Is it acceptable for the largest charitable institution in the
Jewish world, which has been responsible for the disbursement of over
$80 billion of restitution funds, to continue to be headed by the
same elected officers for over a decade, notwithstanding complaints
that the chairman has inordinate powers and runs the organization
like a personal fiefdom?
• 5. The board, which meets annually and whose directors have great
difficulty comprehending the complexity of the allocation of funds,
has rarely, if ever, rejected a recommendation from the allocations
committee and effectively serves as a rubber stamp for the management.
This situation is exacerbated by potential conflicts of interest of
directors whose organizations receive funding from the Claims
Conference. Is it not now imperative to set up an independent
committee to review the entire procedure of allocations in order to
ascertain what can be done to ameliorate the tragic plight of the
survivors – the greatest scandal of our time in the Jewish world? The
concerns related to above have been frequently raised previously. Yet
the Claims Conference management has arrogantly opted to deflect any
criticism by demonizing anyone challenging their policies. What is
needed is not self-aggrandizement, but genuine soul searching and,
even at this late hour, fulfilling the obligation to consider drastic
initiatives to overcome the scandalous suffering of elderly Holocaust
survivors living in penury. (© 1995-2011, The Jerusalem Post 04/05/12)
Return to Top
MATERIAL REPRODUCED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY