World Jewish Congress Drops Libel Suit

By Nathaniel Popper

Published August 04, 2006, issue of August 04, 2006.
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The World Jewish Congress announced that it was dropping a controversial lawsuit against one of its former leaders after encountering growing opposition to the legal fight from affiliates across the globe.

Just last week, the WJC’s Australian affiliate resigned from the New York-based organization because of opposition to the libel lawsuit against Isi Leibler, a former senior vice president of the congress. Leibler had criticized the financial structure of the WJC, leading to an investigation by the New York State Attorney General’s Office. The attorney general’s final report found numerous governance problems with the handling of the organization’s finances by its former chairman, Rabbi Israel Singer.

Officials in France, Switzerland and England had called on the WJC to drop the lawsuit. The WJC announced its decision last week in a newsletter, which said that the case would be dropped “without prejudice and takes Leibler at his word that he will cease his ‘war’ and other agitation against the organization and its leadership.”

In the past, WJC leaders said they would be willing to drop the lawsuit if Leibler paid the organization for damages that they say he has caused the congress. As of Tuesday, Leibler said he had not come to any agreement with the WJC, nor for that matter, had he been informed that the case would be dropped.

“As of now, I have received no communication from the WJC and I never at any stage, made any undertakings to the WJC, with whom I was never at ‘war,’” Leibler said.

“I trust that in the near future, the WJC shall elect a new leadership, implement the reforms of the attorney general and resume its former role as a constructive vehicle for world Jewry,” Leibler added.

The news of the lawsuit’s end came just two days after the Australian affiliate, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, resigned from the WJC, as it had threatened to do for months. The head of the Australian organization said that his affiliate had not been informed about the lawsuit being dropped but was happy to hear about the development.

The announcement about the Leibler lawsuit was quietly tucked under a headline in the newsletter about its legal battles with another detractor, Swiss journalist Daniel Ganzfried. The WJC sued Ganzfried for defamation in Swiss court for articles he wrote about the financial scandals at the organization. In the newsletter, the WJC wrote that Ganzfried had been forced to “pay the full court costs” and had “published a written retraction and apology,” in separate court cases.

Ganzfried, who is writing a book about the WJC, told the Forward that he had not heard of any court cases being settled and that he has not published any retractions or paid any court costs. One of the points of contention from Ganzfried’s articles was his statement that Singer had used the title “doctor” even though he did not have a doctorate. Ganzfried said that a number of months ago, his newsmagazine had published a counter-statement from the WJC saying that Singer had received an honorary doctorate.

“There is no legal victory or defeat,” said Ganzfried, who achieved international prominence in the 1990s by exposing a fraudulent Holocaust memoir. “The whole thing is still open, and I’m still writing my book, and I will still publish more newspaper articles.”

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