Claims and counterclaims

The Claims Conference should be subject to an open, honest investigation. It should also, however, be treated fairly.

Berman Julius 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Berman Julius 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Julius Berman, chairman of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (the Claims Conference), has accused The Jerusalem Post and other media of unbalanced coverage of his organization, which distributes millions of dollars from the German government to Holocaust survivors around the world.
The most recent controversy was sparked by a May 14 report in The Forward that the Claims Conference received an anonymous letter in 2001 identifying fraudulent Holocaust-era restitution claims, eight years before a massive fraud scheme was uncovered in the organization.
(In 2009, it was disclosed that more than $57 million in illegitimate payouts had been stolen from funds administered by the Claims Conference over 16 years. This resulted in the arrests and convictions by a New York court of 31 people.)
In his article in Friday’s Post (“Combating the politicization of Holocaust restitution”), Berman suggests that biased media reports were based on the views of certain unnamed individuals operating for “political or personal gain.”
“These individuals fed the media in general, and The Jerusalem Post in particular, a web of lies and distortions surrounding the recent court case that culminated almost four years of investigation of fraudulent activities,” Berman writes. “Former Claims Conference employees colluded with a group of outsiders to steal tens of millions of dollars from funds administered by the Claims Conference.”
Berman squarely rejects claims that the Claims Conference was involved in a cover-up of the fraudulent activities.
One leading critic is Post columnist Isi Leibler, who has called on Claims Conference leaders to step down over what he termed their gross mismanagement of funds slated for Holocaust survivors.
Despite the harsh criticism from Leibler and others, the board of trustees reelected Berman and other Claims Conference leaders, including executive vice president Greg Schneider, at a meeting in New York in July.
We reject Berman’s claim that the Post was “careless with the truth.” We regret any harm done to his good name or to that of his organization.
One reason for the appearance that we gave critics more space and prominence is that the organization at some point refused to comment on the developing scandal. For its part, the Claims Conference says it was not given due time to respond to inquiries before an article was published.
If we omitted salient facts, we accept responsibility for this oversight. One such fact is that not one Holocaust victim was deprived of any funds.
The role of the Claims Conference in uncovering and investigating the misappropriation of funds was for the most part unacknowledged.
All parties that meticulously investigated fraudulent acts in the organization, including the FBI and the United States Attorney’s Office, have determined that the Claims Conference acted appropriately. The Manhattan US attorney publicly “thanked the Claims Conference for bringing this matter to the FBI’s attention... and for their outstanding ongoing assistance and for its extraordinary continued cooperation in this investigation.”
Additionally, the German government – the only party to have lost out as a result of the fraud – has given the Claims Conference a consistent vote of confidence. It continued working closely with the Claims Conference for the benefit of survivors, even while the investigation was ongoing. During negotiations with the Claims Conference last May, the German government agreed to provide an extra $1 billion over four years for home care to needy Jewish Holocaust victims.
The Claims Conference should be subject to an open, honest investigation. It should also, however, be treated fairly, especially because for more than six decades it has been intimately involved in the huge humanitarian task of assisting Holocaust survivors and negotiating with the German government.
The Post prides itself on independent investigation and fair coverage. As much as we try in good faith, we do not always get the balance completely right, and when we err we are prepared to admit our mistakes and apologize, as we do for any wrongdoing in our coverage of the Claims Conference.