BERLIN (JTA) — The head of Berlin’s troubled Jewish community has condemned allegations that he obtained his position through voter fraud.
With the opposition party on the 21-member Jewish community council demanding he step down, Gideon Joffe called the accusations contained in a German news report “utter nonsense” and part of a “dirty campaign” against him. His office reportedly is considering legal action against the media organization that broke the news and the whistle-blower who said he could no longer keep silent.
In the report aired July 28 by RBB, Berlin-Brandenburg Broadcasting, Boris Braun, a former member of the Berlin Jewish community council, said he was influenced to join in the manipulation of paper ballots in the 2011 Jewish communal elections won by Joffe’s slate of candidates.
“If I think about it, I think, God, what have I done?” Braun said in the RBB report. “That drives me mad. I just have to get it off my chest. I can’t keep on thinking and saying you know nothing.”
Berlin’s Jewish community has just under 10,000 members today, including minors who cannot vote. Joffe reportedly earns a yearly salary of approximately 125,000 euro, or nearly $140,000; some predecessors have performed the job as volunteers.
Braun, former head of the religious affairs department of the community, recalled that during the 2011 elections, Joffe told members of his faction to urge their friends and acquaintances to vote with absentee ballots rather than come to the polling office on Election Day. Braun said he was shocked to learn that some of the paper ballots were opened and manipulated to add votes for Joffe and his slate.
Braun said he realized what was happening after Joffe asked him about a particular paper ballot in which a voter had cast a ballot for a member of the opposition.
“I was totally shocked, looked at him, and said: ‘But the paper ballot envelope was sealed,'” Braun recalled.
Joffe responded that the person had not voted for all 21 positions, so more “X” marks could be made on the ballot.
“Are you opening the envelope?” Braun said he asked. “And [Joffe] answered, ‘Yes, of course.'”
Joffe vehemently denied Braun’s recollections, telling RBB they were “a pack of lies.”
The report also includes allegations of irregularity in the community election of December 2015.
Community council member Sergey Lagodinsky, who would have been president had the absentee ballots not tipped the scales in both elections, on Friday called for the board president and his chief officers to step down. He has also said that the matter should be handled by the Berlin state prosecutor.
Former council member Micha Guttmann, part of a failed effort to have the 2011 vote nullified, agreed.
“What we’ve suspected for years has been confirmed,” Lagodinsky said in a statement from his Emet party. He called on other members of the community with evidence to come forward.