May 25, 2007

Israel’s Peace Efforts Were Not Questioned

A May 18 article presents a woefully inaccurate account of my remarks, and those of Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, with respect to our participation in public forums with Israeli government officials (“Foxman, Wiesel Upbraid Israel for Pace of Peace Effort”).

I, for one, did not at any point upbraid Israel for the pace of the peace effort. Had the Forward attended my panel discussion with government spokeswoman Miri Eisen, or given me the courtesy of a phone call so that I might clarify my remarks, there would have been a much different story to report. I had listed Israel’s quest for peace as one of the assets of public diplomacy that needs to be protected, and my criticism was about their lack of seriousness about their values, their friends and their leadership — not about the peace process.

Wiesel’s questions to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Petra, Jordan, were rhetorical in nature, meant to spur a broader discussion, not to inveigh against the government. Wiesel assured me later that he was only posing a question, not offering a personal opinion. So the only person in the article truly upbraiding Israel’s perceived lack of commitment to the peace process was the Palestinian representative, Yasser Abed Rabbo.

Museum Respects Right Of Workers To Organize

The Tenement Museum takes seriously its responsibility to interpret the history of its Lower East Side neighborhood, including its central role in the birth of the American labor movement (“Labor Woes Hit Memorial to East Side Wage Slaves,” May 18).

We have said in the past, and we reiterate now, the museum’s commitment to recognize any union that establishes itself as the choice of a majority of our employees in an appropriate unit. We have expressed concern that the group of educators seeking union recognition insists on excluding full-time employees and including only part-time and casual, per diem employees. We believe any union should represent all regular employees who have the greatest vested interest in the future success of the museum.

By their own choice, per diem educators set their own schedules — they worked an average of 11 hours a week in a recent pay period. As an indication of how highly we regard their work leading tours for visitors, the museum pays them between $15 and $23 an hour, far above comparable museums in the city.

Contrary to some claims, educators received a $2-an-hour raise as recently as November. And a complaint about working in cramped quarters is a bit strange, since we are interpreting the lives of poor immigrants in tenement apartments, not Tribeca lofts.

We continue to urge our per diem employees to seek to convert to part- or full-time status, which would give them access to the range of benefits now available to regular employees.

But let there be no doubt: If a majority of regular employees vote in favor of a union, the museum will fully respect that and proceed to negotiate. That is the museum’s commitment to its employees, its visitors, its supporters and the history it interprets every day.

Insurance Company Benefits From Accord

A May 4 article notes that in February a federal court in Manhattan approved a settlement on Holocaust-era insurance policy claims between the Generali Insurance Company and lawyers representing claimants (“Bill To Aid Survivors Could Undermine Settlements”). That settlement may very well erode previous pledges.

It purports to create a benefit by paying claims above the $100 million that Generali agreed to disburse via the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims. But according to a side letter to the main 2000 Icheic-Generali agreement, Generali stated it would pay Icheic claims even if they broached $100 million.

Another so-called advantage of the settlement was the acceptance of new claims. But at an Icheic meeting two years ago, Generali and other companies promised to continue to pay claims after the Icheic filing deadline, as Bobby Brown, who served as the Israeli government representative on Icheic, is quoted as saying in the May 4 article.

To make matters worse, payments under the settlement would be based on a valuation system that is less advantageous to the claimants than even Icheic rules. While pledging to cover all forms of insurance, and not just life insurance, the settlement provides no formula for calculating payments for nonlife policies.

Finally, the settlement fails to require Generali to make available a list of policyholders from the Holocaust era.

Generali clearly is the major beneficiary of the settlement. It still owes Holocaust victims or their heirs some $2 billion (2007 value) for unpaid life insurance policies — and this amount would be considerable higher if nonlife policies are included.

AJCongress Played Key Role in WJC’s Founding

Without detracting from the role of European Zionist leader Nahum Goldmann as a major historical figure in the life of the Jewish people, it would be more correct to say that the World Jewish Congress was founded in 1936 by Goldmann working along with Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, president of the American Jewish Congress (“Meltdown,” May 11). From an organizational viewpoint, the two key initial stakeholders were AJCongress and the Comité des Délégations Juives (Committee of Jewish Delegations), which was founded in 1919.

For many years, the New York offices of the World Jewish Congress were in the AJCongress building on East 84th Street, and AJCongress continues to play a role within the WJC’s American section.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.
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May 25, 2007

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