Israel Singer, who was dismissed from a top post at the World Jewish Congress earlier this year for alleged financial misdeeds, has re-emerged in a lay leadership role for the Council for World Jewry, an offshoot of the American Jewish Congress.
Jack Rosen, chairman of both the AJCongress and the Council, said he appointed Singer as chairman of the latter’s international policy council several weeks ago because “he has the experience and standing in the Jewish community, and a great deal to offer.”
He said Singer would focus on interfaith dialogue on the international level, an area that he has been dealing with for many years, including as chairman of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations.
Rosen emphasized that Singer would receive no payment and have no office space. But in anticipation of criticism for choosing Singer, who almost two years ago was barred by the New York State attorney general from any fiscal responsibility at the World Jewish Congress, Rosen said “the negative publicity we’ve heard to date has not pointed to any specifics that would confirm any of the rumors.”
He added that “without any hard facts, it is morally wrong to taint anyone based on rumors. He hasn’t been proven to have done anything wrong or unethical,” Rosen said of Singer.
Asked to comment, Isi Leibler, the primary whistleblower against the World Jewish Congress several years ago, said “it saddens me to bring back into public life a person who less than a year ago was expelled” from the World Jewish Congress “for misappropriating charitable funds” and “cast shame on the entire Jewish community.”
Leibler said he “wondered if the leadership of the American Jewish Congress has really investigated the facts.”
A January 2006 report by then New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, based on a two-year investigation of the World Jewish Congress for alleged corruption, found no criminal wrongdoing. But it said Singer violated his fiduciary responsibilities at the WJC and he was forced to pay back significant sums to the organization that he had used personally.
It was a probe into a mysterious $1.2 million Swiss bank account that Singer moved from New York to Geneva that prompted what became a major controversy within the WJC and led to sweeping changes in its operations and leadership.
Singer was fired last spring by then WJC President Edgar Bronfman, who accused Singer, once a close friend and top associate, of stealing from him and lying to him.
Singer, who has maintained his innocence, told The Jewish Week on Monday that in his new post he looks forward to continuing his work in interfaith relations, particularly with the Muslims, on an international level. He said he sees Jack Rosen as a “partner” and that the two men have “worked well together in the past” in these areas.
Most recently he said he helped the American Jewish Congress coordinate its annual international conference for mayors in October, where 40 mayors from 30 countries met in Jerusalem.
Singer emphasized that he has no interest in the organizational aspects of Jewish life but remains committed to continuing his work on “substantive issues.”
During his three-decade career at the World Jewish Congress, Singer was credited for his success in negotiations with Swiss banks that resulted in compensation for Jews who held dormant accounts. He was also involved in high-level meetings with world political and religious leaders over issues of anti-Semitism, restitution and interfaith activities.
The Council for World Jewry was formed several years ago under Rosen to counter international anti-Semitism and “build bridges to the Muslim world by pursuing contacts with moderate Muslim political and religious figures in the U.S. and around the world,” according to its Web site.
It is perhaps best known for hosting a major dinner in 2005 in New York for President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan during which the leader of the largest Muslim country held out the possibility of recognizing Israel after it resolves its conflict with the Palestinians.
Rosen, who praised Musharraf at the time for his “dignity and courage,” has maintained a relationship with him and visited with the embattled leader last week at the president’s home in Pakistan.
Rosen said that “even if we don’t like what he did, he needs a way to fix it.”
Musharraf has been criticized strongly in the U.S. for declaring emergency rule and cracking down on the judiciary and political opponents.
“However he got to this point,” Rosen said, “the reality is that he broke the system and he has to fix it.” He predicted that Musharraf would restore democratic institutions shortly after the election.