Now that survivors and their heirs have begun receiving payments in Holocaust claims from Germany and Switzerland, the next fight appears to be within the Jewish community itself.
The Jewish Agency for Israel has written to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon asking that he stop the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany from voting April 11 on a new slate of lay leaders. The agency’s treasurer, Chaim Chessler, said in an interview that his organization is upset that there was no Israeli representative on the nominating committee.
Chessler said he and Sali Meridor, the chairman of the executive of the Jewish Agency, met Monday with the retiring president of the Claims Conference, Rabbi Israel Miller, and asked that three Israelis be added to the nominating committee. He said that in addition to Rabbi Miller — a man, he said, “all of us like, love and cherish” — the committee was comprised of representatives from England, Canada and Germany.
“Rabbi Miller nominated himself to be the chairman of the nominating committee and selected three unknown figures” to serve with him, said Chessler. “We were never consulted about [the committee members] or about the process. Israel, according to the laws of the Claims Conference, gets 60 percent of the allocations, yet the Jewish state is not entitled to have any members on the nominating committee? That’s unheard of.”
At stake is to whom the Claims Conference will distribute $80 million to $100 million annually.
Roman Kent, who reportedly was selected to be the Claims Conference’s treasurer, said he believes Chessler’s true gripe is not over the process but rather those selected by the nominating committee.
“They believe that the State of Israel and the Jewish Agency should be the heirs to all unclaimed [Holocaust-era] assets, and I and the Claims Conference [leadership] think it belongs to all survivors, particularly the needy,” said Kent. “The Jewish community at large does not adequately support the needs of Holocaust survivors.”
Chessler declined to comment when asked his reaction to the nominating committee’s choices, insisting that his complaint was over the nominating process.
Kent said he believes the Jewish Agency is seeking to install new leadership at the Claims Conference that would support its way of thinking.
One Jewish leader, who asked not to be identified, said the Jewish community had been united “as long as we were fighting an enemy and the enemy was the goyim. Now that the money is being paid, the Jews are fighting among themselves. It’s a pity.”
Some $1.3 billion of the $5 billion German fund for slave and forced laborers has been paid out to 600,000 Holocaust survivors, including 90,000 Jews, and Jewish survivors and their heirs are receiving payments from the $1.25 billion Swiss bank settlement.
Chessler said that in addition to Kent, the nominating committee chose Israel Singer to serve as president, Julius Berman as chairman, and Moshe Zanbar as chairman of the executive committee.
A spokeswoman for the Claims Conference said Rabbi Miller has served as head of the organization for 20 years and “has governed without preference to any one group.”
She noted also that the nominating panel is a standing committee comprised of those who have served in the past. The committee’s recommendations, the spokeswoman said, must be approved by the Claims Conference’s full 56-member board on April 11 and that any member of the board can submit other names for consideration.
“The process is laid out clearly,” she said. “This is a process that is not about nationality but about what is best for this organization and the future of our operations and Holocaust survivors.”
Kent said he also believed that it is wrong to divide Jews among those who are from different countries.
“We as Jews are all one and it is wrong to make a distinction,” he insisted.