Brawl breaks out among Berlin Jewish community

Conflict over 2013 budget leads to cursing, fighting and choking as salaries of 300 workers are in danger.

May 26, 2013 00:41
2 minute read.
Orthodox Jew praying at the Roonstrasse Synagogue in Cologne [file]

Orthodox Jew praying Roonstrasse Synagogue in Cologne 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Ina Fassbender)

BERLIN – A meeting of the elected leadership of the conflict- ridden Berlin Jewish community –Germany’s largest with 10,500 members – spilled over into physical attacks on Thursday due to disputes over the 2013 budget.

The session turned “brutal,” said one observer at the community’s representative meeting to The Jerusalem Post.

The daily Berlin Der Tagesspiegel reported on Friday that “some members were choked” when community members, including supporters of the head of the community, Dr. Gideon Joffe, attacked opposition members during a break in the meeting.

Criminal complaints were filed and the police appeared at the representative meeting.

A YouTube video filmed by a participant shows the fight unfolding, in which tables are pushed back and members attacked. The Post was able to view the video on Friday but the footage was no longer available on Saturday.

Tagesspiegel reported profanity- laced language at the altercation with one member saying, “F*** you, you a**hole.”

The representative meeting consisted of 21 officials and members and is responsible for the budget of the Berlin Jewish community.

The conflict had centered around finances for the second financial quarter of 2013 and growing tensions between Joffe’s group and opponents of his leadership.

The Berlin Senate had recently pulled the plug on its payments to the community in the second quarter of 2013 to clarify financial questions it had with the group. As a result, the salaries of over 300 workers in the Jewish community could not be secured.

At the Thursday meeting, Joffe said the Berlin Senate had imposed a 5.7m. Euro cap on the community’s budget and that the sealing limit violated the contract between the Berlin state government and the community.

However, Carola Melchert- Arlt, a former member of Joffe’s group, contradicted the leader.

She had participated in the negotiations with the Berlin Senate and said the dispute revolved around the budget for 2013 and that Joffe did not provide a correct table of organization.

Joffe then called on the members at the meeting to vote to lend community property in exchange for credit to pay for budget deficits, including the salaries of workers ranging from day care to social services, but he declined to name the piece of property and the financial amount involved in the transaction. The situation escalated when Joffe’s group pushed for a “stop the debate” motion and his majority members eventually approved the use of the property to raise funds, Tagesspiegel wrote.

Tensions among members in opposition to Joffe’s leadership led to the start of a campaign to collect signatures calling for a new election.

Joffe, who was born in Tel Aviv in 1972, was elected chairman of the community in 2012 for a four-year term. He had previously served as chairman of the community between 2005 and 2008.

Opponents began to set up a website called “Community Watch” and blogged on their criticisms of Joffe’s group.

The main German Jewish newspaper, Jüdische Allgemeine, reported last week that three key opposition leaders – Micha Guttmann, Michael Joachim and Tuvia Schlesinger – said the community’s relationship to the Berlin Senate is shattered and the workers of the community face an “uncertain immediate future.”

The opponents of Joffe – and their Initiative New Elections 2013 – have collected 1,500 signatures for a new vote. It is unclear when the group plans to formally file for a new vote.

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