Newsdesk March 7, 2003

Lauder Criticized on Art

A recently reported admission by cosmetics heir Ronald Lauder that he owns artwork with questionable provenance is raising hackles among activists seeking to recover Nazi-stolen art, especially given Lauder’s top post in one such restitution project.

Lauder, chairman of the World Jewish Congress’s Commission for Art Recovery, acknowledged to The New York Times that he had artworks in his collection whose provenance was at best ambiguous and at worst unknowable. The Times also reported February 27 that Lauder’s 14-month old Neue Galerie in Manhattan has yet to post results of its provenance research on its Web site in accordance with the American Association of Museum’s commitment to do so. And requests for such research return sketchy results, at best, from the gallery.

Lauder’s vast collection of works by Austrian artists Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt, two favorites among Jewish collectors before the Holocaust, also puts him in a precarious position, critics say.

“Its pretty distressing that someone who has been comfortable presenting themselves at the forefront of helping to solve this problem is rather clearly part of the problem,” said the chairman of the Holocaust Art Restitution Project, Ori Soltes.

The Forward reported in 2000 on the failures of Lauder’s art recovery commission. It also reported on Lauder’s seemingly conflicting role as chairman of the Museum of Modern Art, which was fighting the seizure of two of its Schiele paintings by Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau.

Meanwhile, the Times reported this week that a commission investigating Jewish art plundered by the Nazis failed to examine critical data.

Key members of the Clinton administration’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Holocaust Assets in the United States told the Times Monday that the panel’s 2000 report, “Plunder and Restitution,” noted that the State Department notified American museums about looted art as early as 1946, but did not follow up to see how they responded.

It is not known how many of the estimated 100,000 art works the Nazis stole entered the United States via Latin America, Canada and elsewhere. Commission members largely said a lack of time prevented them from delving deeper into the approximately 1 million documents in the National Archives on looted property.

Vatican To Aid Argentinians

The Vatican and the World Jewish Congress will announce the launching of a joint operation to help support the needy in Argentina. The official announcement is to be made early next week during a meeting between Vatican and Jewish officials in Paris. The initiative will seek to facilitate credit to numerous people impoverished by the economic crisis and marginalized from the financial system.

Rabbi Gets Navy Nod

Reform Rabbi Harold Robinson, a captain in the Navy Reserve Chaplaincy, was selected last week by the naval chaplaincy board as rear admiral of the U.S. Naval Chaplains Reserve Force. Robinson is expected to assume the post within six months, when the current rear admiral retires, according to Rabbi David Lapp, director of the Jewish Welfare Board Jewish Chaplains Council. Robinson, rabbi of B’nai Zion Congregation in Shreveport, La., is the third rabbi in history to attain the rank of rear admiral in the navy, following Reform Rabbi Bertram Korn and Conservative Rabbi Aaron Landes.

Freedom Party in Coalition

Austria’s conservative People’s Party last week formed a new governing coalition with the far-right Freedom Party. Although Jörg Haider, the erstwhile leader of the Freedom Party, does not have a position in the national government, the party list is stacked with Haider loyalists. A coalition between Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel’s People’s Party and the Freedom Party collapsed last year, prompting early elections.

Portuguese Raise Funds

Portugal’s Jewish community is holding its first central fundraising campaign in 30 years. Israel’s ambassador to Portugal, Shmuel Tevet; the world president of Keren Hayesod, Avi Pazner, and 150 members of Portugal’s 1,000-member community attended a February 27 event in Lisbon to celebrate the occasion. The campaign is part of ongoing efforts to restructure the communal organizations of Portuguese Jewry.

Wallenberg Case Revisited

The Swedish government mishandled the investigation into the disappearance of diplomat Raoul Wallenberg at the end of World War II, a Swedish commission said. Making use of documents found in government archives, the panel said Foreign Ministry officials assumed Wallenberg was killed after his arrest in Budapest by Soviet troops in January 1945. The officials also failed to follow up leads regarding Wallenberg, who helped save tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews during the war. The commission also found that the diplomat’s links to Washington were closer than first thought.

“One important thing we are emphasizing is he was a Swedish diplomat, but his task was formulated by the U.S government,” a commission member told Reuters. “The Soviets might have wanted to know more about his mission and they could have thought he was more than an humanitarian agent.” Russia has said Wallenberg was taken to Moscow’s notorious Lubyanka Prison, where he died in 1947. But Sweden says it cannot close its files without conclusive proof of Wallenberg’s death.

Billionare P.A. Premier?

A wealthy Palestinian businessman reportedly is the frontrunner for the planned post of Palestinian prime minister. Yasser Arafat is considering billionaire Monib Al-Masri for the premier’s job, Israel Radio reported. Until now, Arafat’s deputy, Mahmoud Abbas, known as Abu Mazen, had been considered the likely candidate. Arafat, who agreed to create the position under international pressure, discussed the issue with members of his Fatah movement Monday. Al-Masri previously has turned down offers to serve in the P.A. Cabinet.

Arafat Sued in France

Seven French families living in Israel are suing Yasser Arafat in a French court. The families, relatives of those killed or injured by Palestinian terrorism during the current intifada, are suing the Palestinian Authority president for sponsoring genocide and crimes against humanity.

Meanwhile, a report alleges that Arafat asked Saddam Hussein for continued help in fighting Israel. “Any kind of support and assistance from you in these difficult times will enable us to continue our persistence and resistance,” Arafat wrote in a letter earlier this month to Saddam, according to the Washington-based Middle East Media Research Institute. “Hand in hand,” Iraq and the Palestinians will march to Jerusalem, Arafat added. Arafat also wished Saddam well as an American-led war against Iraq looms: “May Allah the Powerful protect Iraq from the great dangers and evils that loom over it.’’

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Newsdesk March 7, 2003

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