Newsdesk January 14, 2005

Published January 14, 2005, issue of January 14, 2005.
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Bronfman Wins Backing

Delegates to a World Jewish Congress plenary assembly in Brussels have given almost unanimous backing to the organization’s leadership, a possible turning point following bitter accusations of financial mismanagement.

Most of the 500 or so delegates in attendance here this week gave a standing ovation to Rabbi Israel Singer, chairman of the WJC’s governing board, as he detailed the organization’s work in the area of Holocaust restitution and combating antisemitism.

But Isi Leibler, the group’s former senior vice president, who was dismissed from the WJC’s steering committee this past September, said the organization has “consistently ignored best practices” and frustrated his demands for financial transparency. Among the issues that Leibler raised was a $1.2 million bank account that was discovered in the organization’s name in Switzerland. WJC officials say the money came from a Jewish Agency for Israel grant in 1998.

Leibler did not stand for re-election at the three-day plenary, which ended Tuesday. Singer was re-elected WJC chairman, and Edgar Bronfman was re-elected president, a position he has held for two-and-a-half decades.

Delegates to the assembly were presented with an 800-word report on the WJC’s governance and financial practices, including four separate audits that the organization ordered in recent months.

The dispute has shaken one of the major umbrella organizations of world Jewry and led to a vicious public spat among its top officials.

After months of charges and countercharges, much of which spilled into the media, New York State’s attorney general, Eliot Spitzer, has launched a preliminary inquiry into allegations that the WJC mishandled its finances.

A spokesman for Spitzer’s office declined to comment.

Lawyer Charged in N.J.

Ed Fagan, a lawyer involved in the lawsuit against Swiss banks for Holocaust-era accounts, was charged with misappropriating funds from two survivors.

New Jersey’s Office of Attorney Ethics, the investigative arm of the New Jersey Supreme Court, charged last month that Fagan, one of the lead attorneys in the case that resulted in a $1.25 billion settlement, transferred funds from the survivors’ accounts to pay off debts.

Fagan has yet to respond to the charges, which were first reported by The Black Star News.

Ethiopians Raid Camp

The Ethiopian government has intervened in a political dispute roiling an Addis Ababa compound housing Falash Mura, Ethiopian descendants of Jews who are waiting in squalid conditions to immigrate to Israel.

Ethiopia’s justice minister was accompanied by police officers carrying firearms when he entered the compound January 5, threatening to take away authority from the local community, sources said.

Ethiopians Getenet Mengesha and Yoseph Enyew say that the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry runs the compounds like sweatshops, the Jerusalem Post first reported.

“The government has made up its mind to kick out NACOEJ,” Enyew said. He also called NACOEJ a “mafialike” organization and said that the government plans to imprison the group’s workers.

Ethiopian government officials could not be reached for comment.

The organization, which has received support from several Jewish federations in North America, denies the allegations. The group says they stem from the frustration of teachers, many of whom are not Jewish but are married to Jews, and who realize they won’t be eligible to immigrate to Israel.

This past September, 70 teachers at the Addis Ababa compound went on strike, made false accusations against NACOEJ and refused to work out an agreement, according to Andrew Goldman, the organization’s top representative in Ethiopia.

Enyew denies that he wants to set up a rival group, or that he is being backed by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which provides medical relief and supplemental feeding programs to Falash Mura in Ethiopia.

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