Lauder faces leadership test at helm of WJC

Changing of the guard seen as attempt to breathe new life into organization fraught with internal wrangling and allegations of financial mismanagement.

September 6, 2007 21:06
2 minute read.
Lauder faces leadership test at helm of WJC

lauder 298.88. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

After months of bitter infighting and stagnation, the beleaguered New York-based World Jewish Congress will attempt to turn a page next week, as a new leadership team under the recently elected president Ronald S. Lauder is set to take office. The opportunity for change will be set in motion on Monday when the former executive vice president of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Michael Schneider, 68, takes over as WJC secretary-general. Schneider will replace the controversial outgoing secretary-general of the WJC, Stephen E. Herbits. Herbits had announced his resignation three months ago on the day Lauder was elected, but remained active in the organization even as he was appointed to serve as a liaison to the gay and lesbian community on behalf of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. The changing of the guard is seen as an urgently-needed attempt to breathe new life into an organization which has been fraught with internal wrangling and allegations of financial mismanagement. Disputes have continued to rage even after Lauder's June election with the surprise lawsuits filed against the former veteran group chairman Israel Singer last month. "Until Herbits goes, there is no chance for change in the organization," said Isi Leibler, a former vice president of the organization who has repeatedly called on Herbits to step down. With new leadership in place, Leibler is contemplating a future return to the organization. "With the belated departure of Herbits, Ronald Lauder is now empowered to implement the reforms he undertook prior to the elections ... [and] the new leadership can still raise the WJC out of its current morass and revive the organization," he said. Bogged down by internal infighting, the small non-profit organization, which is most known for attaining millions of dollars in restitution for Holocaust survivors in the last quarter century, has failed in recent years to focus on one single issue in the Jewish world, its time, energy and budget sapped by the disputes. The three-month transition period in the group since Lauder's June election has only further delayed the much-anticipated change in the once-prominent organization. Over the last couple of months, in addition to finding a replacement to serve as his number two, Lauder has met with leaders of Jewish communities around the world, and plans to refocus the organization on combating global anti-Semitism, officials said. Herbits's resignation, which was long sought by Israeli and European officials of the organization, follows months of bitter internal infighting in the organization over control of the Israel office, an issue which has yet to be resolved. The dispute in the organization stemmed from the appointment of Israeli Ambassador to the European Union Oded Eran to head the Jerusalem office of the World Jewish Congress. The appointment was seen by members of the Israeli board as an attempt by the organization's New York based secretary general to bypass the Jerusalem office with a hand-picked appointment who will serve as his personal emissary.The dispute has reached such proportions that there are currently two offices of the Joint in Israel, each operating entirely independently. Eran is expected to remain in his position, even though Herbits is leaving the organization. It was not immediately clear whether the former director of the Israel office, Bobby Brown, who is widely respected by Israeli politicians but was ousted by the former WJC president Edgar M. Bronfman, would be asked to return to the organization. In the meantime, two offices of the organization are partially operating in the city, and do not even communicate with each other, with the Israel dispute considered to be top priority for the new leadership.

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