Bronfman, Lauder likely to square off for WJC presidency

Vote might be held in June, if Bronfman think his son will win.

WJC in Paris 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
WJC in Paris 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
The president of the European Jewish Congress said Tuesday that elections for the president of the New York-based World Jewish Congress should take place by the end of the year. The remarks by European Jewish Congress President Pierre Besnainou come as JNF President Ronald Lauder voiced interest in running for the position, in what has been billed as 'the battle of the billionaires,' and amid a bitter months-old internecine feud over control of the Israel office of the World Jewish Congress which is heading to a showdown. Besnainou, who had been considered as a possible candidate in the race prior to Lauder's announcement, said that the election, which has not been scheduled, could take place as early as June during a meeting in Brussels, but certainly needs to be held by the end of the year. "There is no reason why only an American should be president of the organization," Besnainou said in a telephone interview with The Jerusalem Post. The New York headquarters of the World Jewish Congress had said in a statement that the next mandatory election must take place by January 2009. The organization has been led over the last quarter century by Edgar M. Bronfman, 77, who is expected to step down later this year. Bronfman's son Matthew has been widely expected to succeed his father upon his retirement. Officials in the organization said that the vote might be held during the June meeting if Bronfman feels he has enough votes to crown his son as his successor. Meanwhile, the president of the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities Alfred Donath, which is a member of the World Jewish Congress, said Tuesday that Lauder would be a better candidate than the younger Bronfman. "There have been so many mistakes made. Someone else should be taking over this organization," Donath said in a telephone interview. "I do not think it is a good idea for the son of an active president to become president," he added. In a statement last month, Donath called on the WJC to "fully restore its moral reputation" following a much-publicized case of internal financial mismanagement. The group, which is best known for recovering billions of dollars in restitution for Holocaust victims, has recently undergone a major overhaul although internal feuding has continued to plague the organization. Last month, a Tel Aviv court awarded a former vice president of the WJC, Isi Leibler, NIS 200,000 in costs after the WJC withdrew a libel suit it had previously filed against him. The New York office of the World Jewish Congress did not return a message for comment on the case. Meanwhile, a senior five-member delegation of the World Jewish Congress is set to meet in Jerusalem next week to discuss the months-old internecine debate over control of the Jerusalem office. The dispute stems over the appointment of Israeli Ambassador to the European Union Oded Eran to head the Israel office. The appointment is seen by members of the Israeli board as an attempt by the organization's New York-based secretary-general, Stephen E. Herbits, to bypass the Jerusalem office with a hand-picked appointment who would serve as his personal emissary.