Claims Conference agrees to show board members report on fraud case

Board of Deputies of British Jews joins call for independent investigation, suggests instating term limits.

Berman Julius 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Berman Julius 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Facing mounting pressure, the Conference of Material Claims Against Germany agreed on Wednesday to provide members of its board copies of an internal investigation regarding the organization’s response to $57 million in fraud committed against it over a period of almost two decades.
The decision by the Holocaust restitution organization comes in the wake of a widely publicized letter by board member Stephan Kramer to conference chief of staff Arie Bucheister, in which Kramer claimed that the conference had failed to provide copies of the ombudsman’s report prior to the annual board meeting next week in New York.
Kramer represents the Central Council of Jews in Germany on the board.
The German leader also objected to what he said was the placement of the debate over the report near the end of the two day meeting, subsequent to voting on the reelection of senior organization leaders, including chairman Julius Berman.
“The severity of the issue and the massive demands from leading persons and organizations in the Jewish world make it, to my mind, necessary to put the report much higher on the agenda,” Kramer wrote in his letter, referring to calls for greater transparency by board members such as Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky.
Quoted by the New York based Jewish Week on Wednesday, board member Ambassador Reuven Merhav, who represents the Council of Jews from Germany, said that the agenda to which Kramer objected cannot be interpreted literally.
Merhav was also quoted as saying that Berman had “informed [him] that the issue will be discussed during the first day of our two-day meeting next week.”
Merhav was appointed by Berman to head the select leadership committee that tasked the ombudsman with conducting his probe.
In response to Kramer’s statements, Claims Conference spokeswoman Orly Joseph told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that “the agenda that was sent to the board was a list of topics to be discussed and, as in the past, not intended as a timetable.”
Moreover, she said, “the ‘Report of the Ombudsman’ listed towards the bottom of the agenda refers to the general ombudsman report, not the report surrounding the 2001 letter. The Select Leadership Committee report will include the ombudsman findings regarding the 2001 letter issue.”
According to an email to members of the board obtained by the Post, Robert Goot of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry castigated Kramer for being interviewed by the Post on Sunday and said that “it would have been a good idea for you to check the facts, before you made your public statements, inter alia based on your misunderstanding of the agenda.”
Despite Goot’s assertion, Kramer indicated that he felt vindicated by Merhav’s announcement, telling the Post on Wednesday that he was “glad to learn that my concerns were received and responded to.
“Therefore we will have the chance next week to get into this matter and hopefully get a full picture,” he said.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews also joined in the criticism of the claims conference.
Paul Edlin, one of the board’s two representatives to the Claims Conference, told the Post that the board has “been concerned for a number of years on the governance of the claims conference on every level.”
Edlin said that he supports a previous proposal by World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder to have his organization conduct an independent probe of the Claims Conference.
“An internal inquiry doesn’t satisfy anybody, its all got to be external [and] independent,” Edlin said, adding that “when you have officers of a group who are in the same position for many years, there is no incentive for them to change” and that it may be a good idea for the conference to implement term limits.
The controversy at the claims conference centers around a 2001 anonymous tipoff letter sent to the conference which resulted in two internal probes that failed to uncover the fraud.
The current probe, conducted by ombudsman Shmuel Hollander, comes after pressure from several influential members of the board representing organizations such as the World Jewish Congress.