Combating the politicization of Holocaust restitution

The Claims Conference is being hounded by a few individuals who have been “careless with the truth” – to put it mildly – during recent months.

By JULIUS BERMAN
October 10, 2013 22:05
4 minute read.
Claims Conference

Claims Conference. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Albert Einstein once said: “Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.”

There is perhaps no more important matter facing the Jewish world at the beginning of the 21st century than finishing attaining symbolic compensation for those who suffered unspeakable persecution at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators. However, there are a few voices who are attempting to stymie these efforts.

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The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (the Claims Conference) is an international organization, with a board of directors that is composed of representatives of Jewish national and international organizations around the world. The Claims Conference applies the highest levels of normative transparency and its accounts are available online for all to see.

It is against this background that the Claims Conference is being hounded by a few individuals who have been “careless with the truth” – to put it mildly – during recent months.

These individuals have fed the media in general, and The Jerusalem Post in particular, a web of lies and distortions surrounding the recent court case that culminated almost four years of investigation of fraudulent activities. Former Claims Conference employees colluded with a group of outsiders to steal tens of millions of dollars from funds administered by the Claims Conference.

The investigation by the FBI into the fraud perpetrated against the Claims Conference was instigated by the Claims Conference, which uncovered the fraud in 2009, and the subsequent public trial convicted those individuals involved in the egregious fraud.

In fact, all parties who were involved and meticulously investigated the fraudulent acts, including the FBI and the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, have explicitly recognized that the Claims Conference acted appropriately.

Moreover, US Attorney Preet Bharara repeatedly and publicly “thanked the Claims Conference for bringing this matter to the FBI’s attention... for their outstanding ongoing assistance and for its extraordinary continued cooperation in this investigation.”

Additionally, the German government, whose funds were defrauded, has given the Claims Conference a vote of confidence in that after the discovery of the fraud, it continued negotiating with the Claims Conference and, as recently as May of this year, signed an agreement committing to provide approximately $1 billion, over a four-year period, for home care for Jewish Holocaust victims, with the annual amount increasing every year through 2017.

The Claims Conference will continue to act solely in the interests of Holocaust victims.

Certainly, we are absolutely not above reproach; yet, undermining the organization that is officially mandated to seek and distribute the necessary and deserved funds to Holocaust survivors will only end up hurting those badly in need.

This is exactly what happened during the recent episode.

In May, the Post published a front-page article asserting in its headline that the Claims Conference was involved in a “cover-up” surrounding the fraudulent activities, although we were the first to alert the relevant authorities. This article, the only of its kind in all of the dozens of media articles reporting on the court case, apparently rested on a single source that created a fictitious letter to the Claims Conference heads, purportedly from World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder.

While there was indeed an actual letter sent to us by Mr. Lauder, it did not remotely suggest any type of shadowy “cover-up.”

The source for this wholly inaccurate and possibly libelous distortion appears to have been someone who has been leveling baseless attacks on the Claims Conference, in general, and against me, specifically, for years.

This distortion created a snowball effect, which spurred a new wave of reporting on the issue that took up many column inches around the world.

However, all of this reporting rested on very shallow and easily disprovable distortions.

Unfortunately, few, if any, bothered to ask for first-hand evidence, preferring instead to ride a wave of sensationalism, which, while leveled against me and other Claims Conference leaders, ultimately could have hurt the survivors.

Fortunately, the body whose role is vital for continued compensation and essential social services to needy survivors, the German government, was satisfied with our continuing work.

All of this could have been adduced quite easily. However, some of the reporting was far too effortlessly swayed by sensationalist and baseless accusations.

I understand, in an era where the media is suffering financially, that the more sensationalist the headline the more people are likely to read the article. We see this played out every day in the reporting on the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

However, this issue is far too important to be left without full scrutiny. The Post is correctly considered a very well-read and respected paper in Israel, the Jewish world and beyond. It is incumbent upon those dealing with the issue of Holocaust compensation to be very careful in their accusations and coverage.

I am certainly not above criticism. However, let us stop relying on unreliable sources and stick to the issue of survivors’ needs, the huge increases in funds that the Claims Conference has negotiated and the services it provides, and how we work together to address unmet need in the survivors’ final years.

As Einstein said, those who are so casual with the truth cannot be relied on in matters of such importance.

The writer is chairman of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.


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