The management of the Conference on Material Claims against Germany (Claims
Conference) is ecstatic after having successfully forced two Israeli journalists
to publicly apologize and praise them.
In 2008, Israeli TV aired a
program titled Moral Reparations – The Struggle Continues, which bitterly
condemned the management of the Claims Conference for refusing to prioritize
financial disbursements to ameliorate the desperate plight of aging Holocaust
survivors unable to live out their remaining years in dignity.
program was partly based on a report commissioned by the Jewish Agency from
forensic accountant Yehuda Barlev, but never released after the Claims
Conference stated that it would review its allotments toward the
The Claims Conference sued the show’s producers Orly Vilnai and
Guy Meroz for libel, alleging that the program was “anti-Semitic” and presented
“a cruel and distorted calumny.”
In order to intimidate future potential
critics, they demanded the exorbitant amount of NIS 4 million in damages.
Ultimately, presumably at the behest of the insurance company reluctant to
remain engaged in lengthy and costly court proceedings, a settlement was
negotiated for a much smaller amount – NIS 150,000 – which it was agreed would
be donated to a Holocaust survivor fund chosen by the journalists.
addition, the Claims Conference obtained a written apology praising them for
“acting tirelessly on behalf of the Jewish people” and its “unprecedented
contribution to assisting Holocaust survivors.”
acknowledging that “in the course of our struggle to correct what we saw as a
historical and inhuman injustice... we failed to present the whole picture,”
there was no acknowledgement by the journalists of any specific factual error in
Moreover, as part of the settlement, Vilnai and Meroz
insisted on including a sentence stating that “the frustrating gap between the
desire to help Holocaust survivors which is shared by the entire Jewish people,
and the actual condition of Holocaust survivors requires criticism – on occasion
harsh if deserved – directed at those who set policy in this area, as well as of
those who implement it, since this is a sacred task.”
Conference management is now exploiting this settlement as a means of diverting
attention from the legitimate criticisms and increasing anger directed against
them over recent years. Chairman Julius Berman forwarded memoranda to the media
and Jewish organizations, exulting over the outcome, even praising by name the
senior officers conducting the costly legal campaign which had been in process
for years. He did not disclose how much money the Claims Conference diverted
from Holocaust funds towards this lawsuit.
In order to attempt to balance
the equation, I would challenge Mr. Berman and his Chief Executive Officer to
respond to the following issues which continue to concern Jews throughout the
• 1. In view of the pitiful state of the diminishing number of
ailing survivors, many of whom continue to be denied a dignified life in their
remaining years and cannot even afford to pay for basic food, fuel and medical
expenses: a) Has there been an independent review of the existing allocations
provided toward major charitable causes like hospitals and Israeli
infrastructure which do not directly benefit survivors? Has consideration been
given to prioritizing funds from these projects toward survivors?
Claims Conference consider temporarily freezing allocations to all nonsurvivor
related funds in order to at least partially improve the catastrophic living
conditions of these hapless people?
• 2. In February 2010, it was revealed that
there had been a massive theft of funds specifically earmarked by the German
government for Holocaust survivors. The Claims Conference initially
specified that the amount stolen was $350,000. But later it was reported
that the theft was in excess of the staggering sum of $50 million.
November Der Spiegel
stated the sum had reached $57 million! It was subsequently
disclosed that six corrupt Claims Conference officials, including senior
employees working out of their own New York head office, had been looting these
funds for over 15 years – under the very noses of the highly paid senior
executives. Repeated warnings that a single part-time internal comptroller was
absurdly insufficient for an organization handling billions of dollars were
ignored until it was too late.
Nobody can dispute that it was the
responsibility of the Claims Conference management to oversee the allocation of
these funds. Yet as of today, not a single person has accepted accountability.
The CEO even had the gall to insist that everything was in order because there
was no deviation from standard procedures. The management adamantly refused to
authorize an independent forensic audit in order to evaluate what took place,
ensure that no theft had occurred in other areas and that appropriate
precautions had been imposed to avoid a repetition.
The issue was raised
at the last Claims Conference annual meeting and, after the chairman praised the
manner in which his officers had dealt with the issue, the board responded by
enthusiastically carrying a bizarre motion of confidence in their
It is inconceivable that any normal private or public
institution would refuse to accept accountability and fail to demand
resignations or at least censure of management after such a massive fraud has
been perpetrated on their watch.
The public is entitled to demand that
the management reveal the precise quantity of funds stolen and advise as to
whether there is any intention of introducing a genuinely independent forensic
audit to review the entire organization.
Or has the question of
accountability for failure to implement oversight over these funds now been
• 3. The Board of Deputies of British Jews commissioned an
independent review (the Gruder Report) following complaints from Holocaust
victims that the Claims Conference lacked “transparency and accountability” and
had behaved unethically in the sale of Jewish German properties.
report was highly critical of the Claims Conference’s moral conduct, suggesting
that reprehensible efforts had been implemented to prevent heirs from recovering
property stolen from their families. The matter was raised at the last annual
board meeting – and dismissed by the chairman, who treated the request to review
the situation with utter contempt. Is this the last word on this matter?
• 4. Is
it acceptable for the largest charitable institution in the Jewish world, which
has been responsible for the disbursement of over $80 billion of restitution
funds, to continue to be headed by the same elected officers for over a decade,
notwithstanding complaints that the chairman has inordinate powers and runs the
organization like a personal fiefdom?
• 5. The board, which meets annually and
whose directors have great difficulty comprehending the complexity of the
allocation of funds, has rarely, if ever, rejected a recommendation from the
allocations committee and effectively serves as a rubber stamp for the
This situation is exacerbated by potential conflicts of
interest of directors whose organizations receive funding from the Claims
Conference. Is it not now imperative to set up an independent committee to
review the entire procedure of allocations in order to ascertain what can be
done to ameliorate the tragic plight of the survivors – the greatest scandal of
our time in the Jewish world? The concerns related to above have been frequently
raised previously. Yet the Claims Conference management has arrogantly opted to
deflect any criticism by demonizing anyone challenging their policies. What is
needed is not self-aggrandizement, but genuine soul searching and, even at this
late hour, fulfilling the obligation to consider drastic initiatives to overcome
the scandalous suffering of elderly Holocaust survivors living in penury.