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(photo credit: Channel 1)
Australian Jewry's leading body on Thursday called for the immediate ouster of deposed former World Jewish Congress chairman Israel Singer from his position as president of the Claims Conference following recent allegations of financial improprieties, calling Singer morally tainted by corruption charges.
"As the protector of assets of Holocaust survivors, the Claims Conference cannot afford to be associated with any person who has been the subject of allegations of financial impropriety, misuse of charitable funds or conduct that amounts to what is commonly understood to be corruption," an April 2 letter by the Executive Council of Australian Jewry to the leaders of the Claims Conference reads.
"The Claims Conference must not engage, employ or appoint any officer whose moral authority can be challenged in any way," the letter, released on Thursday states. "The office of president of the Claims Conference...must... only be held by a person with an unblemished reputation."
Singer, who has served as the president of the Claims Conference for over five years, and is up for reelection in July, has categorically denied the allegations of financial irregularities.
Claims Conference Chairman Julius Berman said Thursday that the organization would deal with the issue after Pessah. Berman added that he would consult with the organization's membership later this month, and then formulate a position on the matter.
The Australian Jewish body, which had disassociated itself from the World Jewish Congress last year following earlier allegations of financial improprieties, said recent claims against Singer by group president Edgar M. Bronfman alleging Singer was stealing his cash only reinforced it's view that Singer was not morally fit for the office.
"Given recent controversy regarding the policy of financial allocations of the Claims Conference, the Claims Conference will surely be inviting scandal and controversy to its own institution if Rabbi Singer, who is largely responsible for the financial irregularities at the WJC, maintains any further leadership role," the letter, signed by organization President Grahame J. Leonard, states.
The Australian Jewish community has long been a backer of one of Singer's fiercest critics, Isi Leibler, a former WJC vice president, who served as a one-time head of the Australian Jewish community.
Singer has a rich three-decade record of service to the Jewish world, including working to free Russian Jewry and acquiring billions of dollars in Holocaust restitution, but his name was badly tarnished by a financial mismanagement scandal that has long plagued the organization.
An investigation by the New York State attorney-general's office which focused on a series of money transfers totaling $1.2 million from New York to a Swiss account had barred Singer from any future connection with the "financial management, supervision or oversight of fund-raising activities" of the group but did not find any evidence of criminal wrongdoing.
"Can a body controlling billions of dollars of Holocaust restitution funds morally continue to retain as its president a man found by the attorney-general of the State of New York to have 'violated his fiduciary duties as a trustee of charitable assets?'" the Australian letter asks.
As president of the Claims Conference, Singer negotiates with foreign governments over Holocaust reparations, while Berman runs the organization's day-to-day operations, including its financial management.
Berman has previously said that the allegations of financial improprieties leveled against Singer were "internal feuding" in the organization, and would not immediately affect his position as president of the Claims Conference.
He noted that his position about Singer may not necessarily reflect the view of the other board members, and stressed that the situation was very fluid.
Singer's attorney Stanley Arkin has called the Bronfman charges "sad, sick and shameful," but said that he would "engage in balanced constructive dialogue" with the organization before pursuing possible legal action.