WASHINGTON, March 20 (JTA) — The Anti-Defamation League is cooperating with a congressional investigation into the pardon of businessman Marc Rich, and has acknowledged that Rich was a donor to the organization.
The House of Representatives’ Government Reform Committee also has sent a letter seeking the cooperation of former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, but has not yet received a response, a committee spokeswoman said.
The national director of the ADL, Abraham Foxman, met with committee investigators in Washington on Monday, the same day he released a letter saying he “probably” had erred by lobbying former President Clinton to pardon Rich.
Rich was indicted on 51 counts of tax evasion, racketeering and violating trade sanctions with Iran, but fled to Switzerland in 1983 before standing trial. He then became a major donor to Jewish charitable organizations and Israeli universities and hospitals, and many leading Israeli politicians and American Jewish figures lobbied Clinton on his behalf.
Clinton pardoned Rich in the waning hours of his presidency in January, and has said that the Jewish push — particularly Barak’s intercession — was one of the major factors in his decision.
Myrna Shinbaum, ADL’s director of media relations and public information, acknowledged that Rich has donated to the organization, but refused to divulge the amount he has given or when he gave it.
Shinbaum also refused to comment on the substance of Foxman’s meeting with investigators, saying it “was between him and the government.”
The investigators are examining the process Rich used to gain a pardon, which allegedly bypassed the normal vetting process. The committee, chaired by Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), already has held two hearings on the pardons, interviewing Rich’s attorney and several Clinton administration officials.
The committee will release a list Wednesday of everyone investigators have contacted about the pardon. The committee also will report that they are working to set up an interview with Avner Azulay, a former Mossad agent who oversaw the Rich Foundation in Israel, a committee spokeswoman said.
Attempts to contact Barak’s office and Azulay were unsuccessful.
Foxman’s meeting with investigators came the day he issued a statement explaining why he participated in the Rich pardon.
“I did so because I believed, along with many others whom I respect, that Mr. Rich deserved a second chance,” Foxman said in the statement. “In hindsight, this case probably should not have had my involvement.”
Shinbaum refused to elaborate on the statement, and said it is unrelated to Foxman’s conversation with investigators.
Jewish officials in the United States, Israel and Europe lobbied the White House in a mostly underground campaign on Rich’s behalf. Many of those advocating the pardon had benefited from Rich’s largesse.
Among those writing Clinton were Shlomo Ben-Ami, Israel’s former foreign minister; Ehud Olmert, mayor of Jerusalem; Michael Steinhardt, a philanthropist and CEO of Steinhardt Associates; and Rabbi Irving “Yitz” Greenberg, chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, which oversees the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
None of Rich’s other advocates connected with Israel or the Jewish community were contacted for questioning, the committee spokesperson said.
In his Dec. 7 letter to Clinton urging a pardon, Foxman acknowledged Rich’s “generous support of the Jewish community and abroad” and said he had made amends for his alleged crimes.
“The extent of Marc Rich’s suffering has become disproportionate to his mistakes,” Foxman wrote. “His life has been committed to making the world a better place.”
In his statement Monday, Foxman said his involvement was partially motivated by the death of Rich’s daughter from leukemia. He has since re-examined his decision, Foxman wrote.
“On further reflection, as this unique case unfolded, I began to question whether a person’s good deeds should overshadow other aspects of his behavior,” Foxman wrote.
Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Reform movement’s Union of American Hebrew Congregations, has been an outspoken critic of the Jewish community’s push for Rich.
On Tuesday, Yoffie said he was glad to see the ADL acknowledge that its support of the pardon was an error of judgement.
“Whether or not Mr. Rich contributed, the suspicion was created that there was a motive” to write the letters of support, Yoffie said. “If contributions were made, that makes it all the more serious.”
Shinbaum said ADL has received complaints about its participation in the Rich pardon via the ADL Web site. Still, she said, Foxman “has the support of his lay leadership.”
Attempts to contact several members of the ADL National Executive Committee on Tuesday were unsuccessful.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.