WJC bid to 'hijack' Israel office fails

After bitter dispute, ruling endorses independence of group's J'lem office.

By ETGAR LEFKOVITS
February 28, 2007 00:05
3 minute read.
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After an unusually bitter and tumultuous dispute, the New York-based World Jewish Congress has failed to wrest control over the organization's Israel office, in a feud which could impact this year's expected election of group president, officials said Tuesday. The months-old debate over control of the office was temporarily settled by a subcommittee meeting last week, which unequivocally endorsed the independence of the Israel office. The dispute stemmed from the now-frozen appointment of Israeli Ambassador to the European Union Oded Eran to head the Jerusalem office. The appointment was seen by members of the Israeli board as an attempt by the organization's New York-based secretary-general Stephen E. Herbits to by-pass the Jerusalem office with a hand-picked appointment who will serve as his personal emissary. The subcommittee which met to resolve the dispute over the leadership crisis concluded that a four-member committee will choose the new director-general of the Israel office, and that any selection must be unanimous, the Jerusalem office of the World Jewish Congress said in a press release. The members of the selection committee, which will be presented with a list of candidates for the position by March 20, include the chairman of the WJC-Israel Executive MK Shai Hermesh (Kadima), chairman of the WJC Governing Board Mendel Kaplan, a member of the Executive of the WJC-Israel Faina Kirshenbaum and Jewish Agency Chairman Ze'ev Bielski. The decision to appoint the committee to choose the new head of the Israel office is seen as sinking Eran's chances of becoming director of the office since the decision must be unanimous. It was not immediately clear how the New York office of the World Jewish Congress would meet the contract they signed with Eran. "The decisions convey the independence and strength of the Executive of the World Jewish Congress-Israel, and ensure closer cooperation with the World Executive of the WJC," Hermesh said. In the meantime, Eran has temporarily resumed his duties as ambassador as a result of the dispute. Eran has declined comment on the issue due to his status as a foreign ministry official. The group's New York office had previously called Eran "uniquely qualified" for the posting. Eran had 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 position had been most directly threatened by Eran's appointment but who has received the unequivocal backing of the Israeli board of the organization throughout the crisis, has not decided whether to apply for the position again, since, according to the new guidelines set by the committee, he would need to give up his part-time job as a consultant to the Jewish Agency. His selection for the role would also not be guaranteed since an unanimous decision is needed, officials said. The New York office of the World Jewish Congress declined comment for this article. Meanwhile, Herbits has spent over $270,000 in legal fees in the first nine months of last year in his attempt to take control of the Israel office, as well as other court cases in Israel, including longstanding disputes with a former vice president of the WJC, Isi Leibler, officials said Monday. The leadership feud in the organization comes just months before this year's expected election of WJC president after the organization's president Edgar M. Bronfman, 77, steps down, having served in the position for a quarter century. The election, which has not been scheduled but could take place as early as a June Brussels meeting, is expected to pit Bronfman's son Matthew against Jewish National Fund President Ronald S. Lauder in what has already been billed as "the battle of the billionaires."

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