WJC official settles feud between Jerusalem offices

Accord would merge rival branches following yearlong dispute.

By ETGAR LEFKOVITS
October 25, 2007 00:24
2 minute read.
WJC official settles feud between Jerusalem offices

Michael Schneider 298.88. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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Newly appointed World Jewish Congress secretary-general Michael Schneider has settled a bitter year-old dispute over control of the organization's Jerusalem office, officials said Wednesday. The proposed accord, which is expected to be finalized next week, will see the New York-based organization's operations in Israel merged back into one office, with its director-general, Oded Eran, to report to the WJC's Israel board for the majority of his work. "We've all agreed to look forward and not backward," Schneider said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post, "and return the Israel branch to the same status as all WJC branches around the world." The dispute stemmed from the appointment of Eran, who previously served as Israel's ambassador to the European Union, to head the WJC's Jerusalem office. The appointment was seen by members of the Israel board as an attempt by the organization's then-secretary general, Stephen E. Herbits, to bypass the Jerusalem office with a hand-picked director who would serve as his personal emissary. Herbits stepped down last month, after two years of infighting and stagnation in the once-powerful organization. "I am coming with open hands and without past history," Schneider said after holding back-to-back meetings with WJC officials in Jerusalem this week to hammer out an agreement. He said he expected a "moratorium on all past frictions worldwide." "The question is how is it possible to function when they feel that they belong to New York," said Mati Drobless, a member of the Israel board. The small nonprofit organization, which is best known for obtaining millions of dollars in restitution for Holocaust survivors, has failed in recent years to focus on one single issue, its time, energy and budget sapped by internecine disputes. Herbits's resignation, which was long sought by Israeli and European officials of the organization, followed months of infighting that peaked when New York cut off funding to its Jerusalem branch, and the two offices in the capital, which did not communicate with each other, practically ceased operating altogether. "We have complete faith in the leadership of Michael Schneider and appreciate his honesty, integrity, and credibility for the Jewish people," said Israel board head MK Shai Hermesh (Kadima), who was one of Herbits's most vociferous critics. Schneider said the amount of funding to be allocated to the Jerusalem office would be decided in the next week to 10 days, adding that the WJC, which was hit with a major drop in contributions during the feuding, was making budgetary revisions worldwide. "I expect people to come together in the organization as one team," Schneider said. "The Jewish people have enough problems." Also Wednesday, Schneider said a lawsuit filed by the organization under its previous leadership against veteran group leader Israel Singer was dormant.

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