(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The New York based World Jewish Congress has approved the nomination of the former executive vice president of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Michael Schneider, as secretary general of the WJC, the group said Thursday.
The appointment, which was made by WJC President Ronald S. Lauder and was first reported in The Jerusalem Post last week, was authorized by the organization's steering committee in New York late Wednesday. Schneider will take up his position on September 10. He will replace the controversial outgoing secretary-general of the WJC, Stephen E. Herbits, who will step down a day earlier.
Herbits had announced his resignation at the group's June election but had remained active in the organization, even as he was appointed to serve as a liaison to the gay and lesbian community on behalf of Hilary Clinton's presidential campaign. The move comes two months after Lauder was elected as president of the WJC, and after his previous candidate for the position, Executive Vice President of B'nai Brith International, Dan Mariaschin, unexpectedly turned down the offer.
The WJC appointment is seen as a renewed attempt by the cosmetics magnate to breathe new life into an organization which has been fraught with internal wrangling and allegations of financial mismanagement.
"Michael Schneider will help move the World Jewish Congress into the future," Lauder said in a statement. "Michael is universally respected and is no stranger to the Jewish communities of the world. The South African born Schneider served as Executive Vice-President and Chief Executive Officer of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) from December 1987 until May 2002 and currently leads the JDC's tsunami relief programs in Indonesia and an AIDS-related program in South Africa, among other activities.
Herbits' 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, which has not been resolved. In a parting shot, Herbits accused a former vice-president of the organization, who had called on him to step down, of harming Lauder.
"Let me assure you, the more active you are the worse it is going to be for Ronald," a Herbits e-mail to Isi Leibler circulating in the organization read. 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 by-pass the Jerusalem office with a hand-picked appointment who will serve as his personal emissary.
As the dispute flared, Herbits was forced to apologize for making an ethnic slur against the Tunisian-born former President of the European Jewish Congress, Pierre Besnainou. The remarks, which were written in an internal memo, likened Besnainou to an Arab.
Herbits was originally brought to the organization by former WJC President Edgar M. Bronfman as part of an attempt to clean up the group following much-publicized allegations of financial mismanagement. Founded in 1936, the WJC represents Jewish communities in nearly 100 countries around the world.
The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which was founded in 1914, sponsors programs of relief, rescue and renewal in Jewish communities around the world.
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