WJC slashes budget after infighting

World Jewish Congress leader Ron Lauder focuses on combating anti-Semitism, Iranian threat.

lauder 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
lauder 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The New York-based World Jewish Congress has dramatically slashed its budget, after years of bitter infighting in the once-prominent organization depleted its reserves, organization officials said Tuesday. "We have emerged from very difficult times because of certain internal policies and difficulties in the organization," said WJC President Ronald S. Lauder, who assumed his position in June and has been credited with eliminating the organization's deficit. Over the last six months, the prominent cosmetics magnate and philanthropist has met with world leaders in an effort to rehabilitate the WJC and refocus its efforts on the fight against anti-Semitism, and the Iranian nuclear program. The small organization, which is best known for attaining millions of dollars in restitution for Holocaust survivors, has failed in recent years to focus its efforts. But the past disputes have had a major impact on the organization's reserves and endowment funds, forcing the new leadership to cut costs. Its 2008 "austerity" budget stands at $6 million, down from $7.5m. last year, after three years of deficits, WJC Director of Finance and Administration Chaim Reiss said during a presentation of the group's finances to its governing board, which is currently meeting in Jerusalem. The organization had previously relied on individual "mail-in" donors for roughly 65 percent of its income, he said. A $1m. line of credit, obtained recently with the help of Lauder and board Chairman Matthew Bronfman, saved the WJC from near collapse, Reiss said. "Without that, we would not have been able to operate," he said. The WJC's newly-elected acting Secretary-General, Michael Schneider, said that as recently as September, the organization had less than $20,000 in the bank. "We managed to limp through... 2007 and it was quite obvious that we were hemorrhaging very fast and going in a downward spin," he said. Recent international trips by the new leadership were meant to show that the group was trustworthy, Schneider said. He added that the last three months of 2007 had seen an upswing in donations, but cautioned that it would only be clear by mid-2008 whether this was a continuing trend. At the board meeting, the new leadership repeatedly sought to clear the air of past disputes, which included a much-publicized New York Attorney-General's investigation of former group head Israel Singer and a now-resolved feud over control of its Israel office. "The din of acrimony must yield to productive harmony. The unilateralism must be replaced by inclusive consultation," Bronfman said. "The atmosphere of reprisal and recrimination must be dissipated by considered cooperation." "Our organization cannot afford any further internal conflicts," said MK Shai Hermesh, the head of the WJC's Israeli board. The organization, which was recently recognized by the Better Business Bureau in the US following its financial reforms, plans to create a coalition of business leaders, NGO's and celebrities against a nuclear-armed Iran. "We can only do it if we are united," Lauder said. A participant in the meeting, which was dominated by middle-aged, long-serving lay leaders, said that it was critical for the organization to involve young adults in its activities.