The World Jewish Congress, beset by critics and currently under New York State investigation over its finances, made a big push toward reforming itself this week — but the effort stumbled on its first steps out of the gates.
The WJC’s steering committee approved a series of organizational reforms at a January 19 meeting. Among them was the creation of an audit committee, to be chaired by former Clinton administration official Stuart Eizenstat.
However, Eizenstat told the Forward that he did not want the job.
“I would like to have someone who is considered a financial expert to be a chairman,” said Eizenstat, a Washington lawyer and former deputy Treasury secretary.
Eizenstat said he would participate as a member of the audit committee, which is to meet once a year and review outside audits. He said his participation should not be viewed as approval of the WJC’s past finances. Those finances have been the subject of an investigation by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer since 2004, when the organization came under criticism because of transactions in its Swiss bank account. A WJC spokesman declined to comment on whether the current reforms were formulated in consultation with Spitzer’s office. The attorney general has not released any information about the status of the investigation today.
In addition to the audit committee, the WJC’s steering committee announced the creation of a 20-person Policy Council, to be headed by WJC governing board chairman Israel Singer. Eizenstat, who has not been involved in the WJC before, will be on this body, as will Israeli statesman Shimon Peres and former diplomat Martin Indyk. Also named to the council are several non-Jewish figures not previously involved in Jewish advocacy, including former Hungarian prime minister Miklós Németh, former German foreign minister Joschka Fischer and former Austrian chancellor Franz Vranitzky. The council will meet annually, but it will not have any defined responsibilities or power within the WJC. Avner Tavori, a WJC spokesman, said the purpose of the new body is to give advice on issues that could affect Jews.
When the WJC’s operations first came under public criticism in the fall of 2004, a series of reforms was instituted by Stephen Herbits, an executive brought in by Bronfman as secretary general. He created an international budget and finance committee, with Bronfman’s son, Matthew, as one of the new members. There was also a task force on governance and reform, led by former Tel Aviv University president Yoram Dinstein. Dinstein submitted a new constitution for the WJC last year, which is set to be presented at next month’s WJC governing board meeting. But Dinstein said that since finishing the constitution the WJC has ended the relationship. “I was ready to help in a more meaningful fashion,” Dinstein said, “but apparently they could do without me.”
Tavori, the WJC spokesman, said the reforms instituted by Herbits in the last year have “completely strengthened and refocused the WJC.”