Singer Gives Up Claims Conference Post


Jewish leader Israel Singer, under fire on several fronts, announced Tuesday that he would not run for re-election as president of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.

Singer, former secretary general of the World Jewish Congress before his ouster last March, said he had decided not to run because, having lost his WJC position, “I don’t really have a platform or a party, as it were, to run from.”

The decision marked Singer’s effective withdrawal from the last prominent communal position he held.

The Claims Conference, which is scheduled to hold its next election in July, acts as the administrative body for almost $1 billion in Holocaust restitution funds meant for survivors of the Nazi genocide and their heirs. Its board consists of representatives of numerous constituent organizations, of which the WJC is one.

Singer became prominent in the international arena during the 1990’s as the Jewish leader who conceived and implemented a successful new drive for hundreds of millions of dollars in financial restitution for Holocaust survivors and their heirs. The funds came, among others, from European banks that had denied survivors or their heirs money from pre-war accounts after World War II and insurance companies that avoided redeeming policies taken out by Holocaust victims before the war.

An agreement forged in the 1950’s provided survivors with compensation from the Federal Republic of Germany. But it was Singer who saw the possibility of obtaining further restitution from others, More recently, however, findings of financial mismanagement and allegations of theft by Singer at the WJC led to a break with his patron there, billionaire philanthropist Edgar Bronfman, who ultimately dismissed him. The theft allegations remain unproven and are denied by Singer.

In a press release Tuesday, Julius Berman, the Claims Conference’s chairman, acknowledged Singer’s “tremendous service . . . on behalf of Holocaust survivors.” Negotiations he conducted with institutions and governments for Holocaust restitution “have made a difference in hundreds of thousands of Jewish lives around the world,” Berman said.

But in an interview, Berman also spoke of “the possible turmoil inside the conference” if Singer had decided to run for re-election. “Then I’d really have a lot of work to do, talking to a lot of people to see if we could mold a consensus. If, after today, we’re not news anymore, I’m relieved.”

After his ouster from the WJC under a cloud, some criticized Singer’s continuing role as the Claims Conference’s chief negotiator. It was a sensitive position, argued critics, that required someone beyond any shadow of reproach who could sit across the table from bankers, business executives and government officials on behalf of Holocaust survivors.

A story published last April by The Jewish Week also raised questions about Singer’s possible influence over a decision by March of the Living, a Holocaust education group, to pay an apparent no-show consultant $709,000. The Claims Conference is a major funder of March of the Living, and Singer was close to the consultant. But Singer denied exerting any influence on the group to hire him. The Claims Conference noted that Singer had no involvement in the allocation of restitution money.