The board of the Claims Conference no longer adequately represents the Jewish
people in its dealings with the German government, according to critics of the
embattled Holocaust restitution group.
Observers of the organized Jewish
philanthropic sphere, such as former World Jewish Congress official Isi Leibler
and Jerry Lewis, the former vice-president of the Board of Deputies of British
Jews, have called attention to several organizations represented on the board
which they claim no longer have significant constituencies and in some cases are
all but defunct, yet which cast votes over the disbursement of millions of
dollars in restitution funds.
Leibler is an outspoken critic of the
Conference and recently called on chairman Julius Berman to resign.
Claims Conference was established in 1951 “to secure...a small measure
of justice for Jewish victims of Nazi persecution” through “a combination of
negotiations, disbursing funds to individuals and organizations, and seeking the
return of Jewish property lost during the Holocaust,” according to the
organization’s mission statement.
Leibler told The Jerusalem Post
Monday that organizations represented on the board such as the Anglo-Jewish
Association and American Jewish Congress are “pale shadows of what they were 60
The American Jewish Congress did not respond to a request for
Gary Rosenblatt, editor and publisher of The Jewish Week,
recently wrote that the American Jewish Congress had “suspended its activities
in the summer of 2010” and that it is “no longer a membership
According to Rosenblatt, the organization “once had more
than a dozen regional chapters; the two remaining ones, in Maryland and St.
Louis, operate independently, no longer affiliated with a national body that now
consists of a board of directors” which he reported as consisting of less than
Speaking with the Post on Monday, Samuel Heilman, an American
sociologist who specializes in the Jewish community, said that he did not think
“the Congress still exists” and that it had “stopped being all that important
Asked if the Claims Conference is representative of the world
Jewish community, he replied in the negative, saying that given the significant
changes in Jewish demographics over the past 60 years, it was no longer possible
for all of the organizations on the board to retain their relevance or to
sufficiently reflect the composition of the larger community.
mind,” he said, that the “fastest growing segments of the Diaspora Jewish world”
are the ultra-Orthodox and “non-affiliated, post-denominational Jews.
probably would be a good idea to have a different set-up [in terms of]
organizations represented on the Claims Conference,” he said, “but don’t look
for that to make a lot of changes in the way things are operating.”
the fact that the major players in the organized Jewish scene are “not largely
democratic organizations,” he said, making a change would just “replaces one set
of insiders for another set of insiders.”
“The way Jewish organizations
work isn’t all that representative to begin with,” Heilman said.
here you are right in the general principle that it is always good to have a
turnover, and you can’t always assume that the people and the institutions that
have been in positions of authority should continue to be,” he said.
don’t make the mistake of thinking that by getting a different set of
organizations on these boards that you’re going to have that much more democracy
or that much more sunlight on what goes on.”
Leibler also complained
about what he called “the absence of all the major new organizations that have
arisen” since the Conference’s establishment that are not represented on the
board, that only the ultra-Orthodox and the Reform Movement are represented,
while modern Orthodoxy and the Masorti/Conservative Movement are not, and that
Israeli Jewry is not adequately represented in the body either.
comprising half of world Jewry, aside from [the] survivor group [Center of
Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel], has one organization
representing it, the Jewish Agency,” Leibler complained.
of the board is completely out of sync with the current realities of Jewish
life. It still includes organizations which are virtually nonexistent, but
retain equal representative status to major global Jewish organizations like the
Jewish Agency and World Jewish Congress,” he said.
In an interview with
the Post, Jerry Lewis, who was not speaking on behalf of the Board of Deputies,
said that the Anglo- Jewish Association does “excellent work” and that “100
years ago it was a major organization.”
However, it is now “not
representative of any part of the Anglo-Jewish community,” he said.
on the periphery. It’s role in the Claims Conference ought to be
In response, Johnnie Walker, president of the Anglo-Jewish
Association, stated that the “AJA’s membership comprises a broad cross-section
of the Anglo- Jewish community” but that his organization does “not publish
specific information about our membership.”
Walker responded to Lewis’s
claims by saying “I cannot pass judgement either way since I have not discussed
the matter with Jerry myself and, in any case, would not intervene in the
affairs of another communal body.” He did point out, however, that Lewis was “no
longer a vice president” of the Board of Deputies, despite his continued
affiliation with the group.
The Claims Conference did not respond to a
request for comment on the matter, nor did it clarify if there are any
procedures for changing the organizational composition of the board.