Claims Conference chief backs Singer

Deposed WJC official up for reelection as Conference president in July.

israel singer wjc 298.88 (photo credit: Channel 1)
israel singer wjc 298.88
(photo credit: Channel 1)
A leader of the Claims Conference said on Sunday that the allegations of financial improprieties leveled against Israel Singer, the recently ousted former chairman of the World Jewish Congress, were a result of "internal feuding" and would not immediately affect his position as president of the Conference. "Our position for the past two years has been - and remains - that this sounds like an internal fight within the World Jewish Congress, and that it would be inappropriate to allow this dispute to come out onto the table at the Claims Conference," said Julius Berman, the chairman of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, in a telephone interview with The Jerusalem Post from New York. Berman said that the position of the Claims Conference had not changed since Singer's sudden dismissal by WJC President Edgar M. Bronfman earlier this month, and that it was monitoring legal developments. "To the extent we can keep it off our table, we will, [but] if charges are made and proven that will effect the ability of the Claims Conference to negotiate with foreign governments, then we will have to deal with it," Berman said. Singer, who has served as the president of the Claims Conference for over five years, is up for reelection in July. Bronfman accused Singer of taking cash from the WJC's New York office, and having its Jerusalem office illicitly pay for some of his hotel bills during visits to Israel. Singer has categorically denied the allegations of financial irregularities, and expressed shock that his associate and confidante of three decades would make such "groundless" charges. The WJC's Jerusalem office has regularly paid the hotel extras and domestic travel expenses of senior visiting organization officials, and been reimbursed by New York, officials said, in what is "standard operating procedure" for major organizations. Singer has spent three decades serving the Jewish world, including working to free Soviet Jewry and acquiring billions of dollars in Holocaust restitution, but his name was badly tarnished by a financial mismanagement scandal that has long plagued the organization. The New York State Attorney-General's Office barred Singer from any connection with the "financial management, supervision or oversight of fund-raising activities" of the WJC after an investigation that focused on a series of money transfers from New York to a Swiss account totaling $1.2 million, but did not find any evidence of criminal wrongdoing. As president of the Claims Conference, Singer negotiates with foreign governments over Holocaust reparations, while Berman runs the day-to-day operations of the organization, including its financial management. The World Jewish Congress is one of 24 member organizations in the Claims Conference. A 58-member board of directors elects the group's top officials every July. Berman said his position on Singer did not necessarily reflect the view of the other board members, and stressed that the situation was very fluid. "It is difficult to believe that the status quo of today will be the same as that in July," he said. Singer's attorney, Stanley Arkin, has called the Bronfman letter "sad, sick and shameful" but said that he would "engage in balanced constructive dialogue" with the WJC before pursuing any legal action.