The recently ousted chairwoman of the World Union of Jewish Students is consulting a lawyer to see what redress she has after the organization's executive body called for her dismissal, a measure that hasn't been taken in at least a decade.
The six-member executive board cited differences of vision as well as concerns over fiscal management in its decision to remove Viktoria Dolburd 18 months into her two-year term. She received a letter informing her of the determination on Thursday following two days of heated discussions.
The board plans to appoint an acting chair within two weeks to serve until elections are held as scheduled in December. The WUJS chair is elected by Jewish students in some 50 countries to run an organization devoted to strengthening Jewish identity, aiding 1.5 million Jewish students worldwide and fostering connections between Diaspora and Israeli Jews.
"The executive was fully appreciative of the changes implemented and the courageous steps taken by Viktoria, but at the same time [there was] a lack of compatibility with the executive and the direction she was insisting on taking," said WUJS executive director Jonny Cline. "She started the track of bringing the organization back to proper management. But there's only so much one young leader can do."
Cline stressed that nothing Dolburd had done bordered on the criminal or threatened the viability of the organization.
But, he said, "There was never anything that could be interpreted as due process."
He accused Dolburd of failing to share crucial financial information with the board and lacking knowledge on important financial matters at a time when the budget was shrinking. According to Cline, it fell from $500,000 in 2003, two years before she entered office, to $200,000 in 2006 due to reductions in funds from the Jewish Agency, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the World Jewish Congress.
"There's nothing you can do to stop a budget cut, but there's plenty you can do to bring in more money," he said. "The board feels there was not enough effort in bringing in money."
Dolburd countered that fund-raising was difficult because the organization hadn't been listed as one entitled to tax-deductible donations, something she had been working to change. Cline, though, argued that the matter had only recently been brought to the board's attention when it was a simple procedure that should have been done years earlier - another example of something "amiss."
She said that some of the charges to do with finances were "taken out of context" due to the complicated nature of the organization and that she was conducting her own review of WUJS's finances.
"We're a student organization. We're dealing with programming. We're not supposed to come in and collect money," she added.
"It wasn't as if I had stolen money or made the organization bankrupt," she noted.
"This was not the case, by no means," she continued. "[Yet] this is the most drastic decision that can be taken by the WUJS executive."
Cline was quick to compliment Dolburd on the work she did in a position akin to "foreign minister" of the Jewish student world, on projects including "reinvigorating" student organizations in South America, "rebuilding" Eastern European Jewish communities, and strengthening Israeli-Diaspora interaction "on a social level rather than a purely hasbara level."
Dolburd attacked the "brutal" decision taken by the executive board as one that would harm the future of the organization.
"Initiatives that I have undertaken and partnerships I built are now endangered. The continuity of leadership that I worked for when I was elected WUJS chairperson is jeopardized," she said.
She described her initial reaction to the ouster as one of sadness, but indicated that has now been replaced with the sense that "there has to be some justice and some investigations." She added that the full reason for her dismissal hadn't been made clear to her.
Peleg Reshef, who preceded Dolburd as WUJS chair said he, too, was unaware of the details surrounding Dolburd's removal since he had not been part of the organization for the past year-and-a-half. But he maintained that WUJS would survive this "setback" and the "precedent" it sets.
"It's not ideal. In the long term they understand that they need a leadership that is stable," he said, adding, "Life in an organization can bring you to a certain point, like marriage, where certain couples don't fit."
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