Top WJC official resigns in New York

Stephen E. Herbits quits on day of Lauder's election as head of organization.

herbits 88 (photo credit: )
herbits 88
(photo credit: )
A senior leader of the New York-based World Jewish Congress who was at the center of a bitter dispute over control of the group's Israel office has resigned from the organization, officials said Monday. The controversial WJC Secretary-General Stephen E. Herbits officially resigned from the organization late Sunday, a spokesman for newly-elected WJC President Ronald S. Lauder said. The high-profile resignation came on the day of Lauder's election as the head of the organization. Lauder had told senior officials of the organization ahead of the vote Sunday that he had received a letter of resignation from Herbits which was to be effective immediately. Lauder's spokesman said Monday that the exact date that Herbits's resignation will go into effect was uncertain due to the transition period. Herbits's resignation, which was long sought by Israeli and European officials of the organization, follows months of bitter internal infighting in the organization over control of the Israel office, which has not been resolved. The dispute stemmed from the appointment of Israeli Ambassador to the European Union Oded Eran to head the Jerusalem office of the World Jewish Congress. The appointment was seen by members of the Israeli board as an attempt by the organization's New York based secretary-general to bypass the Jerusalem office with a hand-picked appointment who would serve as his personal emissary. Herbits was originally brought to the organization by Bronfman as part of an attempt to clean up the group following much-publicized allegations of financial mismanagement. The New York offices of the World Jewish Congress did not respond to a query Monday over the date of Herbits's resignation. Last month, Herbits was forced to apologize for making an ethnic slur against the Tunisian-born President of the European Jewish Congress, Pierre Besnainou. The remarks, written in an internal memo, likened Besnainou to an Arab. "I think this was a good decision on the part of Mr. Lauder, to bring in new people," Besnainou said Monday, saying it was high time to move beyond the "irrational" past organizational feuding. It was still not immediately clear Monday how the conflict over the Israel office of the organization will be resolved. The Israel branch is effectively operating out of two separate offices since Eran took up his appointment earlier this year. Meanwhile, it emerged Monday that Lauder, 63, will retain his position as president of the Jewish National Fund and will concomitantly head both organizations. "A more able person for the position we could not imagine," a JNF statement said, saluting Lauder on his election victory. "Very few people in his financial position have put themselves out into the organized Jewish community the way he has and continues to do." "I am convinced based on my years of friendship that Lauder will be able to greatly contribute to the Jewish people and the People of Israel," Likud opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu said. Netanyahu, a close confidante and ally of the conservative Lauder, had actively lobbied members of the Israeli board to vote for him despite their previous pledges of support for his opponent, South African steel magnate and longtime group official Mendel Kaplan. The WJC election came two weeks before this month's election for the President of the European Jewish Congress. Both candidates in the European race on Monday congratulated Lauder on his victory - even though only one of them had supported the cosmetics magnate in the race. "Supporting Mendel Kaplan did not mean opposing Ron Lauder, but simply making a choice between two talented candidates," Besnainou wrote Monday, noting that the outgoing president of the WJC Edgar M. Bronfman had, as recently as one month ago, called on organization officials to support Kaplan. "I am sincerely glad that Ron Lauder won, since he is a committed and hardworking leader, devoted to his people," said Moshe Kantor, President of the Russian Jewish Congress. "He is a man who remembers the lessons of the past and faces the future with confidence." Founded in 1936, the once-powerful WJC represents Jewish communities in nearly 100 countries around the world.