(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Ronald S. Lauder was elected president of the New York based-World Jewish Congress late Sunday, seeking to clean up an organization plagued by internal wrangling and allegations of financial mismanagement, officials in the organization said.
Lauder, who had unexpectedly formed an alliance with Matthew Bronfman of Canada, faced off against South African steel magnate and longtime WJC official Mendel Kaplan.
Lauder defeated Kaplan in the organization's executive committee by an 11 to 4 vote.
The cosmetics mogul went on to win 59-17 in a second ballot in the larger governing board.
Ninety people are eligible to vote for WJC president, including heads of prominent organizations and senior WJC officials.
In a controversial move, 15 of the 90 people scheduled to take part in the vote were given that right by WJC Secretary-General Stephen E. Herbits, even though they answer directly to him, officials in the organization said.
The inclusion of these WJC officials - who would make up one sixth of the voters - was being disputed by officials of the organization.
A committee was established to rule on who had the right to vote, although the makeup of panel was hotly disputed by Israeli officials, who said it was not fairly balanced and that the Israeli delegation not properly represented.
In a face-saving gesture, Jewish Agency Chairman Zeev Bielski accepted a nonvoting position on the committee, which prompted the head of the Israel board, MK Shai Hermesh (Kadima), to walk out in protest.
Lauder has been president of the Jewish National Fund since February 1997, and it underwent a major financial overhaul under his leadership.
Lauder, a former US ambassador to Austria, also served as chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and as chairman of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, where he lives.
The election is taking place one month after the dramatic decision of Matthew Bronfman's father, Edgar M. Bronfman, 77, to step down after serving as WJC head for more than a quarter century.
The new president's term will be a shortened 18 months, through the duration of Bronfman's term, which ends in January 2009.
Herbits, who was originally brought into the organization by Edgar Bronfman as part of an attempt to clean up the group following much-publicized allegations of financial mismanagement, has been mired in a bitter feud with the organization's Jerusalem branch over control of the Israel office.
Lauder told top officials of the organization that he had a letter of resignation from Herbits that would be effective immediately, Hermesh said.
"There is no way to rehabilitate the organization if this destructive man remains in his position," Hermesh said.