Mr. Berman, why not tell the truth?

My humble advice to the Claims Conference president is that telling the truth should also be considered by him as an option.

By SHMUEL HOLLANDER
July 27, 2015 21:23
4 minute read.
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A memorial candle for Holocaust Remembrance Day. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

 
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A famous lawyer in Israel used to tell his staff: “Telling the truth should also be considered an option.” I was reminded of these words of wisdom while reading Claims Conference president Julius Berman’s article in The Jerusalem Post referring to his decision to dismiss me as ombudsman of the Claims Conference.

Berman called me three weeks before the expiration of my employment contract to inform me he had decided to discontinue our working relationship. He made it quite clear that the reason for his decision was the professional report I had submitted – together with a select committee – two years ago. This report exposed severe failures and negligence on the part of the CC management, that enabled a $57 million fraud in the CC’s New York office.

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Berman explained that this report had damaged the organization and that therefore I must leave. Apparently, according to existing norms in the CC it is not those responsible for the negligence who must be punished but rather the ombudsman who prepared the report about it.

Neither in this phone conversation nor in our meeting in New York a couple of days afterward did Berman mention the economic reason he cited in his article. If he had done so, I would have refuted his argument easily.

After informing me of his decision, Berman convened the Leadership Council over the phone. I wasn’t invited to participate and consequently was denied the basic right to bring up my arguments to whatever was said in my case. To this day I don’t have any information as to what was said or discussed. I learned about the LC decision only from the media. One doesn’t have to be a legal expert to understand that such a procedure is inappropriate, and even illegal according to Israeli law. Berman, as a religious scholar, should be aware that it also contradicts Jewish halacha.

For an entire year Berman stubbornly refused either to speak or to meet with me. Had he agreed to my repeated requests he would have heard about the dramatic increase in the number of complaints (much higher than the figure he mentioned in his article) in spite of the numerous obstacles that were placed in our way by the executive vice president, hampering our work. If Berman had agreed to listen, he would have learned of the importance of our work to the Holocaust survivors turning to us for help.

Using the economic argument is really absurd. Do I have to remind Berman that the modest budget of the entire ombudsman’s office is much lower than the annual salary of a senior staff official in the CC office in New York? Not to mention other unnecessary expenditures.



Another ridiculous argument of Berman’s is that my contract was already renewed after submitting the report. He must have forgotten to mention that at that time he – together with other three persons – signed and sent a very problematic statement to the German Finance Ministry. That statement raised severe ethical questions that need to be investigated. He was worried I might turn to the Germans and therefore promised me solemnly that my position in the organization was secure. I agreed to Berman’s request hoping and believing I’d be able to lead to positive changes within the organization. I was so naïve! Apparently, after 18 months he didn’t see himself as bound by his personal commitment. Instead, it was time for revenge.

In the annual CC board meeting two weeks ago, the representative of the World Jewish Congress proposed that the board shall appoint an independent committee of inquiry to investigate allegations made by the ombudsman. Berman objected to this proposal and it was not accepted.

Why is he afraid of an independent inquiry? In an interview he gave to the media in New York, Berman raised another reason for my dismissal. He said it was because of my “apparent irrationality,” calling me a “kook.” Besides being libelous, this is a very peculiar accusation to make against a person who in his long public career held some of the highest positions in the Israeli Civil Service, including government secretary and civil service commissioner. I have worked directly under six prime ministers – from Rabin to Netanyahu – and gained their trust. None of them considered me irrational or a kook. Anyway, Berman should at least be consistent in the reasons he is giving to the media for his decisions.

My humble advice to Mr. Berman is that telling the truth should also be considered by him as an option.

The author was until recently the ombudsman of the Claims Conference. He served in the past as legal adviser to the Prime Minister’s Office, government secretary and as the civil service commissioner.

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