Groups Indulge in Name-calling

Published February 25, 2005, issue of February 25, 2005.
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Jewish organizations were guilty of submitting false IRS filings, misusing funds, doling out “outlandish benefits packages” and lying to the government.

Herbits, a longtime top aide to WJC president and former beverage baron Edgar Bronfman, was responding to criticisms from unnamed officials at other Jewish organizations.

“There are no illegalities in Israel Singer’s behavior, and that is not true of some of the leaders of these other organizations,” Herbits was quoted as saying.

“I know it and they know it and they better be careful, because if they cause enough problems in the press, then this organization won’t be the only one that has a preliminary inquiry from the [New York] attorney general’s office,” Herbits said. “Then you’ll see some real fireworks.”

Herbits refused to name names, saying, “I’m not going to play that game.”

But, he added, “I’m not going to sit by and let this organization take the rap for their behavior.”

“If we get into that kind of pissing match,” Herbits said, “this organization ain’t going down by itself.”

Meanwhile, though no accusations of criminality have been lobbed between Jewish organizations fighting over the Gaza disengagement plan, that squabble has become increasingly bitter and personal.

During the past week, James Tisch and Malcolm Hoenlein, the top two officials at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, have lashed out at two of their most prominent critics: Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, and Abraham Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League.

For years, Yoffie and Foxman, whose respective organizations are both members of the conference, have complained that Hoenlein, the conference’s executive vice chairman, wields too much power over what is widely viewed as the body representing the Jewish community’s consensus views on Middle East affairs. In recent months, Yoffie and Foxman have argued that the conference has failed to offer a clear endorsement of the disengagement plan or to issue a clear condemnation of extremist rhetoric among Sharon’s most extreme right-wing opponents.

Now the top two officials at the conference are firing back.

In an interview with Ha’aretz last week, Hoenlein sharply attacked Yoffie, dismissing him as irrelevant. “It is just one person who seems to find this is his only way of getting attention and who makes a career out of writing these articles,” Hoenlein said, referring to Yoffie’s opinion essay in the Forward last week.

Hoenlein also dismissed Foxman’s efforts to circulate a pro-disengagement petition in an effort to pressure Hoenlein and Tisch into calling a vote on the issue. “Abe Foxman tried to circulate a petition himself, but he could not get anybody to support it, because people felt it was a question of timing and not of substance,” Hoenlein said. “Once the Knesset voted, we issued a very strong and clear statement.”

Some conference members have credited Foxman’s petition with any steps taken by the conference in support of Sharon’s plan.

Meanwhile Tisch takes aim at Yoffie in an opinion essay in this week’s edition of the Forward, which appears on Page 7 along with a response from the Reform movement leader.

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