Singer Ends Career at Claims Conference

By Nathaniel Popper

Published June 13, 2007, issue of June 15, 2007.
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In a move that will likely end one of the most high-powered careers in the Jewish communal world, Rabbi Israel Singer announced this week that he would step down from his post at the top of the world’s leading Holocaust restitution body, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.

The Claims Conference announced Tuesday that, at the conference’s annual meeting next month, Singer will not be seeking re-election as the organization’s president. The decision by Singer, who had held the Claims Conference presidency for five years, comes just three months after he was ingloriously fired from his position as top policymaker of the World Jewish Congress, which he had led for some three decades along with Edgar Bronfman.

At the top of the Claims Conference and the WJC, Singer was recognized as the architect of the Holocaust restitution agreements of the late 1990s and as the leader of the Jewish community’s relations with the Catholic church.

Singer’s decision caps a difficult few years for him. The public problems began in late 2004, when a former WJC official accused Singer and Bronfman of running the organization with little oversight. The New York attorney general investigated and pointed to governance problems at the organization. Singer was singled out for having benefited from improper loans and payments and was barred from further positions of financial leadership.

Bronfman initially stood by Singer at the WJC, but in March of this year Bronfman fired Singer with little warning. Documents at the time suggested that one factor in the fallout was the candidacy of Bronfman’s son, Matthew, for the WJC presidency. Members of the WJC administration accused Singer of not providing adequate support for Matthew’s candidacy.

Publicly, the WJC secretary general, Stephen Herbits, said that Singer was fired because of newly discovered financial wrongdoing, which Singer denied. After the firing, there was a growing chorus of calls for Singer to resign from the Claims Conference, as well, led by Isi Leibler, the WJC official who had levied the first complaints against Singer.

These complaints seeped into the recent election for a new WJC president. Ronald Lauder, the winning candidate, was given extensive support by Leibler, and a few weeks ago Lauder began calling for a change at the Claims Conference.

At the WJC election where Lauder was chosen, Herbits released a new barrage of criticism against Singer, stating in a report that “Mr. Singer owes the WJC substantial restitution, which to this date he has refused to acknowledge and pay.”

The allegations were similar to the ones that Singer had denied earlier. In a statement to the Forward, Singer said: “In response to some of the open-ended allegations about the Claims Conference that have appeared of late in the press, I note that though I never sat on any allocations committee or made decisions about who would receive Claims Conference monies, I am confident that those who did, did so with wisdom and fairness. Attacking them or the Claims Conference for political gain or ego is reprehensible and, ultimately, only harms the survivors.”

The Claims Conference said in a release that it would put together a nominating committee to look for candidates to replace Singer. The release said that the process would likely not reach a conclusion by the time of next month’s annual meeting.

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