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Newsdesk September 17, 2004

WJC Set for Showdown

The controversy at the World Jewish Congress heated up this week, with one official claiming the organization’s chairman obtained e-mails and memos from his personal computer and leaked them to the media.

In a memo issued this week to WJC leaders, the organization’s senior vice president, Isi Leibler, said that he is investigating how his computer files were obtained by WJC board chairman Israel Singer.

Singer’s office declined to comment. But one supporter, speaking anonymously, rejected any suggestion that the documents were taken from Leibler’s computer. “This is another in a series of hopelessly false accusations,” the source said.

The two WJC leaders are engaged in a highly public feud that exploded in the press last week. At issue is an earlier memo that Leibler was preparing to submit to the WJC’s board, in which he expressed concern over possible “financial irregularities,” including some question having to do with Singer, and called for an independent audit of the international Jewish organization. Singer and his supporters, however, say Leibler’s complaints are unfounded, and fueled by his own desire to wield more power in the organization, as well as his fierce objections to the left-leaning Middle East positions of Singer’s patron, WJC president Edgar Bronfman.

In the course of defending Singer, his allies have shared what appeared to be Leibler’s private e-mails with newspapers. Singer and his allies have refused to say how they obtained the documents.

In an e-mail to WJC officials, Leibler wrote: “Investigations are underway to identify how the information was obtained.”

The two sides are headed for a showdown next week as WJC leaders head to New York for a two-day board meeting starting September 20. Bronfman and his allies are expected to push for Leibler’s ejection from the organization and the dismissal of his main ally, Elan Steinberg, a top WJC professional.

Until recently, Leibler, Singer and Steinberg made up the WJC’s Operations Committee, which had been running the organization since last year. Bronfman disbanded the committee in July, replacing it with an expanded steering committee that included Singer and Leibler, but not Steinberg. In an August 30 memo, Bronfman announced the appointment of one of his top aides in the business world, Stephen Herbits, to serve as the WJC’s new chief executive.

A source familiar with the situation said Bronfman and Singer are expected to address all of the questions raised in Leibler’s initial memo at the meeting next week.

Among the issues raised by Leibler was a $1.5 million bank account controlled for a time by Singer that some WJC officials say they knew nothing about. All sides agree that no money was missing from the account, which Singer surrendered control of this summer in response to a directive backed by Leibler and Steinberg.

Singer, who is based in New York, said the money was given to him by the Jewish Agency in 2002 to set up a pension. He has accused Leibler of running a campaign to destroy Bronfman, who is scheduled to step down as president next year.

Iraqi Nixed After Israel Trip

The Iraqi National Congress fired one of its most senior members for visiting Israel. During an emergency meeting, the leadership of the former exile group decided to fire Mithal al-Alusi, according to an Associated Press report. Alusi’s visit to a terrorism conference angered his colleagues, who said they only knew about the trip from the media. Ha’aretz had quoted al Alusi as saying that many elements in Iraq are interested in diplomatic ties with Israel.

The INC released a statement declaring that “his statements, which were carried by the media, do not represent the Iraqi National Congress’ point of view.”

The leader of the group, the controversial Ahmed Chalabi, is a former member of the U.S.-appointed Governing Council and currently is a member of the National Council, a 100-member transitional assembly intended to serve as a watchdog over the interim Iraqi government until January elections.

Gay Unions Backed

The board of governors of the American Jewish Committee passed a resolution supporting full legal rights for gay couples who enter into civil unions. The resolution also stated the committee’s opposition to current efforts to adopt a constitutional amendment barring states from sanctioning same-sex marriages. Any such amendment, the resolution said, “would enshrine discrimination into our social fabric.”

Israelis Sue Over Arrests

Four Israelis arrested in the United States on 9/11 are filing a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Justice. The $250 million lawsuit alleges that the four men were unlawfully incarcerated for an extended period of time and that they were subject to physical abuse during their two months in prison. The men were arrested after they were found with foreign driver’s licenses near a crossing into New York City on September 11, 2001.

Museum Drops Israel Pic

A museum in Cincinnati recently removed a photograph showing two Israeli soldiers restraining a Palestinian boy. The photo was up in an exhibit on current struggles against oppression at the Freedom Center, a new museum celebrating the Underground Railroad that brought slaves to freedom in the United States before the Civil War. The removal of the photo followed complaints from members of Cincinnati’s Jewish community.

Population Stats Released

About 40% of the 13 million Jews in the world now live in Israel, according to a new report by the Jewish Agency for Israel.

Citing a census conducted by the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, the Jewish Agency report states that 5.2 million Jews live in Israel out of a total population of 6.8 million people. The Jewish state is also home to 1.3 million Arabs, comprising 19% of the population. There are also 287,000 “others” not registered as Jews.

According to the Jewish Agency report, 5.6 million Jews live in North America, 1.2 million in Europe, 413,000 in the former Soviet Union, 401,000 in South America, 84,000 in Africa, 107,000 in Australia and New Zealand, and 19,000 in Asia.

In Israel, during 2003, the Arab minority had a growth rate of 3%, compared with 1.4% among the Jewish majority, the Jewish Agency report stated.

The median age in the Israeli Jewish population is 30.4 years, while the Arab median is 19.7. The average Israeli household has 3.13 people, while the average Arab household has five.

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