A planned audit of March of the Living, a popular international Holocaust education group for teens, will not review the group’s past financial conduct despite allegations of past improprieties, The Jewish Week has learned.
The Conference of Material Claims Against Germany announced last month that it had begun an “in-depth audit” of March of the Living “to review whether any of the recent allegations are true.”
But Claims Conference spokeswoman Hillary Kessler Godin said Wednesday that the audit will look only at “procedures of March of the Living that are currently in place.”
“We want to make sure that going forward our dollars are being used properly,” she said.Godin acknowledged that such a review will not investigate any financial improprieties that may have taken place between 2003 and 2005, when the New Jersey-based March of the Living made controversial payments to a New York consultant, as first disclosed earlier this month in The Jewish Week.
(The New Jersey-based March of the Living group is a separately incorporated entity from a New York group, International March of the Living.)
The apparent shift provoked criticism from Isi Leibler, a former senior official and whistleblower at the World Jewish Congress who is now calling for a broad review of Claims Conference policies.
Leibler, who also criticized March of the Living for alleged misuse of its funds from 2003 through 2005, said, “An audit of the current operation of the March of the Living does not go far enough. With sacrosanct funds of this nature what is required is a forensic audit of the entire operation.”
The Claims Conference, which gives some $700,000 per year to March of the Living, is one of its major funders. Those payments are now being suspended, the conference announced last week, in the wake of The Jewish Week’s disclosures.
“New allocations to March of the Living will only be made if it is clear that the operation of March of the Living is currently being administered in a way that is proper and appropriate,” said Godin. Godin stressed that up to now, “No evidence of mishandling of Claims Conference funds allocated for the project has been identified.” She pledged that the audit’s “major conclusions” would be made public.
Asked about these recent developments, March of the Living President David Machlis said, “Our accountants’ reports on the Claims Conference grants … have consistently demonstrated that the funds granted by the Claims Conference were used for the purposes awarded. We are concerned about recent unsubstantiated allegations in the media and are working very closely with the Claims Conference to refute these allegations, and reaffirm public trust in our important program.”
Last month The Jewish Week disclosed that March of the Living paid $709,000 to a Manhattan public relations consultant for work he could not explain. March of the Living itself failed to respond to repeated questions about what specific work the consultant, Curtis Hoxter, had done, though it claimed he was a “valued fundraising consultant” who had “generated substantial funds for the organization.”
March of the Living employed Hoxter from 2003 through 2005 at the urging of Israeli Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson, who founded the organization. Hirchson is currently on leave from his cabinet post due to a police investigation into allegations that he embezzled millions of dollars in funds from a union confederation and a health care fund.
Hoxter is also a close and longtime associate of Claims Conference President Israel Singer, who was recently ousted as a leader of the World Jewish Congress amid charges of financial impropriety.
Singer previously allocated $657,600 in World Jewish Congress funds to Hoxter from 2001 through 2003. The WJC outlays were not reported on the group’s tax forms, as required by law. Hoxter’s accountant told then-New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer that Hoxter had “no documentation or description of services performed, or time records” to account for any WJC work during this period. The payments were halted when WJC senior officials Elan Steinberg and Isi Leibler discovered their existence and demanded they be stopped.
Singer was in discussions with Hoxter about becoming a partner in his public relations firm during part of this period.
The Claims Conference has granted more than $7.4 million to March of the Living since 1998. For the last several years, it has given the group about $700,000 annually, usually in late December or early January. March of the Living, therefore, may not feel the impact of the funding suspension immediately — or at all, if the Claims Conference’s audit is completed before year’s end and March of the Living gets a clean bill of health. Its budget was $4.2 million in 2005, the most recent year for which tax records are publicly available.
The Claims Conference’s grants go to subsidizing high school students who sign up for March of the Living’s major program: spring education tours of Holocaust sites in Poland, followed by a visit to Israel.
The Claims Conference, with assets of more than $1 billion, controls and oversees Holocaust restitution money from governments and institutions that were complicit in victimizing Jews during the Holocaust and afterward. It also controls assets from Jewish properties in the former East Germany that went unclaimed after the Holocaust — the source of the funds granted to March of the Living.