Singer 'shocked' by Bronfman attack

Exclusive: Fired WJC leader denies stealing funds, mulls legal action.

israel singer wjc 298.88 (photo credit: Channel 1)
israel singer wjc 298.88
(photo credit: Channel 1)
Israel Singer, the ousted former chairman of the New York-based World Jewish Congress, said Thursday that he was "shocked and deeply saddened" by the "groundless" allegations of financial improprieties leveled against him by organization President Edgar M. Bronfman which Singer said had brought shame on the group's leadership. "I am shocked and deeply saddened that Edgar, a man with whom I have worked so closely for 30 years, would go to such lengths as to publicly shame both himself and me," Singer said in a telephone interview with The Jerusalem Post. Singer's attorney Stanley Arkin said that he was "considering" legal action against the WJC. In the interview, Singer categorically denied the allegations of financial irregularities of which Bronfman had accused him, including taking cash from the WJC's New York office and having the organization's Jerusalem office pay for some of his hotel bills. "This is a very sad day in the joint life of two people who achieved much together," Singer said. "For over 30 years, I have given my heart and soul to achieve the objectives that we together worked on through the WJC, and I will not engage in any petty or mean-spirited or valueless arguments. Nor will I blame anyone for personal differences that will deflect from these important goals that still need to be addressed," he added. Singer has a rich, three-decade record of service to the Jewish world, including working to free Russian 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 WJC. An investigation by the New York State attorney-general's office which focused on a series of money transfers totaling $1.2 million from New York to a Swiss account had barred Singer from any future connection with the "financial management, supervision or oversight of fund-raising activities" of the group, but did not find any evidence of criminal wrongdoing. Singer resigned as WJC chairman last year, and was then appointed to chair the group's Policy Council, an advisory body. Over the last six months, Singer had refused to take sides in an increasingly bitter battle over control of the WJC's Jerusalem office, angering organization officials in New York, who felt he was no longer "a good soldier," Israeli officials in the organization said. Bronfman's unilateral decision to fire Singer, announced earlier this month during a conference call that was marred from the start after Israeli and European leaders of the organization said that their microphones were shut off, stunned leaders in the seven-decade old organization, which has been plagued by internal infighting and is now facing a chaotic split. Singer, who also serves as president of the Claims Conference, said Thursday that he would continue to serve the Jewish people through other venues. "I will spend the rest of my life in pursuing the causes of the Jewish people...and with the help of God, my efforts will never cease," he said. Bronfman had written the President of the European Jewish Congress Pierre Besnainou, who had voiced his shock over the dismissal, that Singer had "helped himself to cash from the WJC office - my cash." "This had gone on for a very long time. I am sure that at this point in time he thinks he was entitled to the money, and so he didn't do anything wrong," Bronfman wrote. "This is a shameful attempt to demean and diminish this man - a treasure in the Jewish community - without any justification," Arkin told the Post in a separate telephone interview. Singer's attorney called the Bronfman letter "sad, sick and shameful," but said that he would "engage in balanced, constructive dialogue" with the organization before pursuing possible legal action. Meanwhile, the WJC's New York offices have hired the services of a top Israeli PR firm to represent them in Israel, the firm said Thursday - in open defiance of its Jerusalem office, which it is circumventing. The group's decision to hire the services of the PR offices of Eyal Arad was lambasted Thursday by Israeli officials of the organization as part of the WJC's "money war" against its Jerusalem office. "This is another brutal attempt by the WJC to use the money of its donors, which was meant for the betterment of the Jewish people, in its struggle over the legitimacy of the WJC office in Israel," said the head of the Israeli board of the WJC, MK Shai Hermesh (Kadima). "It is a pity that such funding is being wasted on unnecessary PR in Israel when the problem is not PR in Israel but how to maintain proper working relationships with the elected official of the WJC in Israel," he added. The organization, which has indefinitely suspended all funding to its Israel branch, had previously cited "a major cash flow shortage" for cutting off the funds. The original dispute in the organization stemmed from the appointment of Israeli Ambassador to the European Union Oded Eran to head the WJC's Jerusalem office. The appointment was seen by members of the Israeli board as an attempt by the organization's New York-based secretary-general Stephen E. Herbits to by-pass the Jerusalem office with a hand-picked appointment who would serve as his personal emissary.