World Jewish Crook?

NY Times reports on the dismissal of Israel Singer from the WJC.

World Jewish Congress Dismisses Leader

The World Jewish Congress, the small nonprofit group that compelled European banks to pay billions of dollars in Holocaust restitution, has dismissed its longtime leader, Israel Singer, after three years of controversy.

“Israel Singer is no longer associated with the World Jewish Congress or any of its affiliates,” the organization reported in a statement appended to an internal newsletter sent to staff members and other officials on Wednesday.

Mr. Singer’s departure follows a tumultuous period for the organization that began when its Swiss affiliate discovered $1.2 million in odd transfers of money between accounts in New York, Switzerland and London, where it was held in the name of an Israeli lawyer.

The money was eventually returned, but the transfers led to other questions, including how much of the organization’s money was footing lavish travel and other expenses incurred by Mr. Singer and whether its financial controls were adequate.

Those questions led to an investigation by the New York State attorney general’s office, which concluded last year that Mr. Singer had violated his fiduciary responsibilities and found problems with the organization’s financial controls and fund-raising practices. The office did not find evidence of criminal wrongdoing, but the Internal Revenue Service is still at work on its own inquiry.

In the meantime, the organization has struggled. Donations fell in 2005, and, according to its financial statements, its expenses were $17 million and its revenues were $9.4 million.

Stephen E. Herbits, the executive who has overseen an overhaul of the organization, said he could not discuss the specific reasons for Mr. Singer’s removal. “It is important that the World Jewish Congress stand for integrity around the world,” Mr. Herbits said.

Mr. Singer did not respond to a call requesting comment.

Isi Leibler, a former official of the group who has been Mr. Singer’s biggest critic, declined to comment.

But Menachem Rosensaft, an ally of Mr. Leibler, applauded the ouster and predicted it would lead to changes at other organizations, like the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, in which Mr. Singer has played a leading role.

“This is a long overdue move,” said Mr. Rosensaft, a lawyer and founder of the International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors. “It is simply impossible for any Jewish leader or any nonprofit leader to exercise moral authority if there is even the appearance of financial impropriety.”

But an official of the congress’s Israeli affiliate said Mr. Singer’s ouster was an effort by the United States office, led by Mr. Herbits, to exert control over the entire organization.

That official, who would not speak for the record, supplied letters from the leaders of the Israeli and European affiliates to Edgar M. Bronfman, the liquor magnate who is the organization’s president and chief patron, that threatened to sever ties with the group unless decisions made during a conference call on Wednesday, including the decision to remove Mr. Singer, were retracted.

“We are disgusted by what has just transpired,” wrote Shai Hermesh and Mati Droblas, representatives of the Israeli branch.

Mr. Herbits said the threats were not a concern. “The decision to remove Mr. Singer was solely and completely on his behavior, not mine and not Edgar’s, who is distraught over this,” Mr. Herbits said.

Mr. Bronfman, who is in poor health, has said he wants his son Matthew to succeed him as president of the congress.

But Ronald S. Lauder, the cosmetics billionaire, has said he might run for the position, and the leader of the European Jewish Congress, Pierre Besnainou, has said he favors having a non-American take the helm.

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