Contested WJC appointment on hold

Former Israeli ambassador's selection seen as attempt to by-pass J'lem office.

By ETGAR LEFKOVITS
December 31, 2006 18:05
3 minute read.
Contested WJC appointment on hold

oded eran wjc 298. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )

 
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The appointment of Israel's former ambassador to the European Union Oded Eran to head the office of the World Jewish Congress (WJC) in Jerusalem is being held up due to an ongoing dispute between the Jerusalem and New York office over control of the Israel office, officials said Sunday. The appointment, which was supposed to go into effect on Monday, just one day after Eran completed his tenure as a career diplomat with the Foreign Affairs Ministry, has been the subject of a fierce internecine struggle between the two offices which has not been resolved. Eran, who has returned to Jerusalem, declined comment Sunday. Negotiations between the Jerusalem and New York offices to reach an eleventh-hour compromise agreement over the appointment have been put off until next week due to the New Year's holiday in the United States. The appointment is seen by members of the Israeli board as an attempt by the organization's New York-based secretary general Stephen E. Herbits to bypass the Jerusalem office with a hand-picked appointment who will serve as his personal emissary. The group's New York office has called Eran "uniquely qualified" for the posting. One proposal being considered would see a six-month freeze of the status quo at the organization's Jerusalem office. The New York office of the WJC was not immediately available for comment Sunday. Last week, an Israeli anti-corruption group questioned Eran's appointment to the position the day after he completes his tenure at the Foreign Affairs Ministry without a cooling off period. Eran, 65, has previously served as Israeli ambassador to Jordan, and then headed the Foreign Ministry's team in the failed peace talks with the Palestinians between 1999-2001. Founded in Switzerland in 1936, the WJC is the representative body of Jewish communities and organizations in nearly 100 countries across the world. The organization, which has recently undergone a major overhaul due to a case of internal financial mismanagement, is best known for recovering billions of dollars in restitution for Holocaust victims. The New York-based WJC has affiliate offices around the world including Brussels, Budapest, Buenos Aires, Geneva, Johannesburg, Moscow, Ottawa, Paris, Sydney and Jerusalem, where the WJC's research institute is located. The Jerusalem office, whose annual budget was recently reduced by nearly one-third to $475,000, works to connect the State of Israel with the Diaspora Jewish communities, and is active on issues such as anti-Semitism, interfaith dialogue, and the preservation of Jewish heritage sites around the world. Eran has been offered a $250,000 annual salary for the job, nearly double what the office's current director Bobby Brown makes, officials in the organization have said. Brown, whose job is most directly threatened by Eran's appointment but who has received the unequivocal backing of the Israeli board of the organization, has served in his position for four years. The organization's relatively small Jerusalem office has about a half dozen people on salary. The dispute over control of the Jerusalem office, which was followed by a temporary freeze in funding that the New York office attributed to a "major cash flow shortage" has already led to an inter-organizational clash over the group's events. Last month, in an unprecedented move, the New York office of the WJC publicly disassociated itself with an annual event the group's Jerusalem office held in coordination with the Knesset's Christian Allies Caucus and the Ministry of Tourism to honor two prominent evangelical Christian supporters of Israel. The internal problems the organization is having could also impact this year's expected election of president of the World Jewish Congress after the organization's president Edgar M. Bronfman, 77, steps down following serving in the position for a quarter century. Bronfman's son, Matthew, is expected to succeed his father upon his retirement. Bronfman brought Herbits, a former adviser at Seagrams, to the World Jewish Congress as part of the organization's reorganization.

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