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(photo credit: Bloomberg)
In a surprise move, Jewish National Fund President Ronald S. Lauder and Matthew Bronfman have joined forces ahead of next month's World Jewish Congress elections and will run on a joint list, a spokesman said Wednesday.
The unexpected "merger of the billionaires" will see Lauder running for the president of the organization and Bronfman seeking the group's governing board chairmanship, which is the organization's No. 2 slot, in the June 10 ballot.
Bronfman is the son of the outgoing president of the New York-based WJC Edgar M. Bronfman.
Why I support Ron Lauder for WJC president
Lauder and the younger Bronfman will compete against Mendel Kaplan, who currently serves as the chairman of the governing board, and who stands to lose the most by the merger.
"We are combining our efforts to guarantee that the WJC remains the strongest representative organization of Jewish communities around the world," Lauder said of the once-prominent organization that has been fraught with internal wrangling and allegations of financial mismanagement.
"We will continue reform of the organization, assure the World Jewish Congress's financial solvency, and expand its operations to better pursue its missions," he said.
Matthew Bronfman said that the two would work "side by side" to advance the organization's mission on behalf of Jews around the world, and will work with Jewish communities "in a process marked by transparency and integrity."
Bronfman had long been considered a possible contender in the race but suddenly decided not to run for the top spot after the cosmetics mogul entered the race.
The move came one month after the dramatic resignation of veteran group leader Edgar M. Bronfman, who held the position for a quarter century.
Bronfman's resignation came less than two months after his sudden decision to oust veteran group chairman Israel Singer over allegations of financial improprieties.
The elder Bronfman welcomed the merger warmly, congratulating the two men on their "united commitment" to lead the organization to a promising future.
President of the European Jewish Congress Pierre Besnainou, who had threatened to pull out of the organization if elections were not held this year, is backing Kaplan in the race, as is the head of the group's Israeli board, Kadima MK Shai Hermesh.
Isi Leibler, a former WJC vice-president and a Lauder supporter, called the merger "an opportunity for healing and change."
The Jewish organization, best known for acquiring millions of dollars in Holocaust restitution, has been awash in internal turmoil and months of internecine quarrelling that has threatened to split the six-decade old body in half.
The organization's troubles have led to record-low donations. According to the group's financial statements, its expenses were $17 million and its revenues were $9.4m. in 2005.
It was not immediately clear Thursday what the future would be of the controversial secretary general of the organization, Stephen E. Herbits, who has been mired in a bitter feud with the organization's Jerusalem branch over control of the Israel office.