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Sins Of Commission At The Jewish Week
Mon, 08/12/2013 - 20:00
Special To The Jewish Week
Julius Berman
Julius Berman

Last May, The Jewish Week published an Editorial (“Sins of Omission at The Times”) complaining about The New York Times’ failure, in publishing a two-part series on abuse in the ultra-Orthodox community, to credit The Jewish Week for taking the lead in reporting on these issues, calling the Times’ failure to give appropriate credit “deeply unethical.” That Editorial referred to a letter from The Jewish Week to the public editor, or ombudsman, of The Times complaining about this omission.

The Times’ ombudsman responded in The Times, essentially calling the complaint justified.

What was indispensable there was that The Times had an ombudsman to whom such complaints can be addressed. Now, it is time for The Jewish Week to do likewise.

A brief review of the treatment from May-July by The Jewish Week of the Claims Conference (“CC”) demonstrates that the paper repeatedly failed to meet its responsibility for accuracy and at times placed into question its journalistic integrity. Most of this coverage concerned the “2001 letter” received by the CC in Germany from a fictitious organization with no return address alleging that many CC employees or their relatives were approved for grants administered by the CC who were allegedly ineligible to receive such grants and citing five instances of such approvals.  Below are several examples of the paper’s coverage of this issue, which show that the need for an ombudsman for this paper is clear.

False Headlines — The lead article in the July 5 issue has the following screaming headline: “Under Pressure, Claims Conference Officials Alter Meeting Agenda.”

That headline is simply false. The meeting agenda was never altered. Had The Jewish Week checked the agenda that was distributed prior to the meeting, it would have immediately noticed that the Report of the Select Leadership Committee (“SLC”), which incorporated the Ombudsman’s Report concerning the 2001 letter as an appendix, was listed at the very top of the agenda. Further, The Jewish Week already knew that the ombudsman’s findings concerning the 2001 letter were to be a part of the SLC report as, in the very same article, there is a quote from Reuven Merhav, the chairman of the SLC: “We are now finalizing our report, which includes the findings of the ombudsman.”  

While there was a reference towards the bottom of the agenda to the “Report of the Ombudsman,” that was simply to the Annual Report given by the ombudsman describing what he did all year, similar to other annual reports listed in that section of the agenda.  The plan (as evidenced by the agenda) was always that the SLC Report, which included the Ombudsman’s Report regarding the 2001 Letter, would be discussed on the first day of the conference’s two-day meeting. 

False Facts — The July 5 article referenced above also states:

“Following the convictions [of those perpetrating the fraud], two Conference board members, Ronald Lauder, president of the [WJC], and Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, publicly called for independent investigations into how the [CC] handled the fraud. But Berman decided instead to ask Merhav and three other board members to do their own investigation.” 

There are several mistakes here: First, while Lauder asked certain questions on May 17 regarding the handling of the 2001 letter, he did not ask for an independent investigation. In fact, in a June 4 article, The Jewish Week stated that “Lauder has not asked for an independent investigation.” Second, while Sharansky, in a May 20 letter, did request an independent committee be established, that letter was written after Merhav was asked to head the SLC. Third, the SLC was not asked “to do their own investigation” into “how the [CC] handled the fraud” but rather to formulate an appropriate course of action for the conference with respect to the issues surrounding the 2001 letter. In connection therewith, the SLC asked the Ombudsman to undertake a fact-finding investigation.

Missing Information — Throughout its coverage concerning the 2001 letter, The Jewish Week failed to mention the following important fact: The $57 million stolen from two funds administered by the CC was stolen from the German government, not from survivors, who did not suffer from any diminution of funds and services due to the money stolen.

False and Misleading Editorial — The paper’s Editorial (“Change at the Claims Conference,” July 5) describes the 2001 letter as “an anonymous letter to the [CC] detailing the fraud that was sent to its leadership, and essentially dismissed.” The letter could have been more accurately described as an unsigned letter from a fictitious organization sent to the CC office in Germany detailing five instances where allegedly ineligible CC employees or their relatives were approved for grants. Further, nobody genuinely contends that the letter was “essentially dismissed.”

The Editorial also states that the organizations that are members of the CC Board have a “reputation of being a rubber stamp for the [CC] leadership.” That is simply untrue. Critics who would prefer the CC conducted business in accordance with such critics’ dictates may say that, but those who know anything about the CC board members — which include AJC, Board of Deputies of British Jews, CRIF (representing French Jewry), B’nai B’rith International, Executive Council of Australian Jewry, South African Jewish Board of Deputies and World Union of Progressive Judaism — know that it is completely false.

The Editorial also asserts that “[a]llegations of a cover-up must be disproven.” While there were board members that wanted to know how the CC responded to the 2001 letter, including whether the board was informed of it, the tale of “allegations of a cover-up” was a press fabrication.

Second, the notion that one must “disprove” allegations of a cover-up is ridiculous.  How can someone legitimately be asked to prove the negative — that there was no cover-up?

One could go on dissecting the reporting and editorializing in this paper to demonstrate the — at best — misleading nature thereof, but let’s leave that for the ombudsman who will, hopefully, be appointed forthwith, which, in light of the above sample, is the minimum needed to restore The Jewish Week’s credibility. 

Julius Berman is chairman of the board of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.

Editor’s Note: We stand by our reporting. Briefly, Mr. Berman says The Jewish Week should have “checked the agenda” of the Claims Conference meeting in advance; in fact, basic details of the closed meeting, even where it was being held, were kept from us. And as early as 2010 (Feb. 12 issue) we reported that it was the German government that was defrauded and that no money was taken from Holocaust survivors. Mr. Berman has chosen to criticize press coverage rather than respond to the report of the Claims Conference ombudsman, which called for an in-depth examination of “the general conduct over many years that enabled such a large-scale fraud to continue unimpeded.”

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As a child of survivors, whose own father was denied any benefits continuously from the 70's until his passing, with the lame excuse of the CC then "managed" by Israel Singer and his associates, the one used on hundreds of Hungarian survivors:" not having had suffered for 18 months in a death camp, ghetto or hiding" newly revised to 12 -15 months", I hold the past and present CC accountable, for hiring Russians and not direct heirs, for their arrogance towards survivors, and demand the resignation of all immediately!
What charlatans to have their phones answered in Russian as a second language!!!!
Since when were Russians from Kurdistan, Asia Minor taken to central European death camps?
This was the theft of the CC worse even than that of Nazi Germany!
This was done by Jews against Jews!
Edith polak
President, 2nd Generation Children of Survivors

Mr. Berman - your continued attempts to defend your actions against your numerous critics is becoming embarrassing. You can argue all day long about agendas and headlines, but it means nothing. What is important is the fact you have failed the world Jewish community with your autocratic style of management. Your desperate attempts to remain in control of the Claims Conference makes it obvious you are no longer fit to serve this important organization. For the sake of all survivors, please do the honorable thing and step aside.

For over a decade, Holocaust survivors had been asking the Claims Conference to appoint an ombudsman, but our pleas fell on deaf ears until relatively recently. Now Berman has the 'Chutzpah' to try and assume the role of a defender of democracy who advises others on the merits of an ombudsman position. He should have gone one step further and disclose the latest findings and statements of their own Claims Conference ombudsman's report, namely:
** "The organization was governed in a manner unacceptable in both public and corporate bodies." and:
** "It is a fact beyond any doubt that the absence of professional control systems as well as the absence of computerization constituted a key factor in enabling and certainly in facilitating the fraud" and:
** "The appointment of authority in no way matched the needs of the organization, which was characterized by unreasonable levels of centralization."
The ombudsman's report essentially describes the Claims Conference's leadership as inept and inefficient. In any other institution, public or private, the leadership would have been replaced. But not in the Claims Conference where centralization reigns under tight control by J. Berman, who stacks the decks. The individuals on the Board of Directors were given a choice of voting either 'Yes' or 'No' on a slate prepared and presented by the leadership; alternate choices were not accepted and abstentions were not permitted. The findings of the ombudsman were trivialized.
And now we have to suffer nitpicking rantics of a C.C. leader who shamelessly and undemocratically does everything in his power to remain in control.
Finally, a few questions pertaining to the assertion that the fraud & loss harmed only the Geremans:
** Does Germany have an unlimited amount of money available?
** If Germany has limitless funds, then why are the German Treasury and the Labor Ministry feuding over who ought to pay the ghetto-pensions?
** Does the German government prepare annual budgets and allocates finite sums to each of the budgets (for example: x- amounts for Holocaust victims)?
** If the budget for Holocaust restitutions incurs a major loss, does that leave less funds available for negotiations?
** Did the $57 million fraud/loss render restitution-negotiations more difficult?
** Have legitimate, but destitute applicants experienced greater difficulties since the discovery of the fraud - including humiliating personal questioning - in order to obtain the assistance they need, like dentures, hearing aids, adult diapers, etc...?

Mr. Berman & associates: We've had enough of your fairy tales; There was a $57million + fraud on your watch and no control system to prevent it !!! Read a book on ethics and step down.

Leo Rechter, president 'National Association of Jewish Child Holocaust Survivors - NAHOS'

the final fact is that there was an accusation made 12 years ago and apparently nothing was done about it other than to cover up and bury it. the rest of the comments are just irrelevant.