- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 18, 2007

JERUSALEM — One the world’s best-known Jewish organizations appears on the brink of breaking because of bitter internal feuds among its members, an official said.

The Israeli and European chapters of the World Jewish Congress (WJC) are considering pulling out of the organization, Shai Hermesh, chairman of the group’s Israel chapter, told the Associated Press on Friday.

The World Jewish Congress is an international federation of Jewish communities headquartered in New York and headed by billionaire businessman and philanthropist Edgar Bronfman.

Founded in 1936, the group is known for its campaign to win restitution from Swiss banks holding the assets of Holocaust victims, fighting anti-Semitism and lobbying to allow the Jews of the Soviet Union to emigrate.

No comment was available from the WJC’s head office or from the European chapter’s office in Paris.

The WJC has been plagued recently by internal conflict, with mutual recriminations between senior staffers and bad blood between the headquarters and some of its regional affiliates, especially the Israel office, chaired by Mr. Hermesh, a lawmaker from the ruling Kadima party.

In a conference call held by Mr. Bronfman and the group’s leaders Wednesday, some officials were angered when Mr. Bronfman announced that he had fired Israel Singer, his longtime deputy, Mr. Hermesh said.

Mr. Singer’s reputation as a prominent Jewish leader was sullied by a report last year commissioned by Eliot Spitzer, then New York’s attorney general, that concluded Mr. Singer had improperly made personal use of WJC funds. No criminal charges were filed.

Mr. Hermesh said that in the conference call Mr. Bronfman also accused the Israel branch of financial irregularities and threatened to directly intervene in the appointment of a new director for the branch.

An independent audit of the Israeli operations, meanwhile, has been ordered, the WJC said from New York.

Opponents of the moves, including the head of the European chapter, could not voice their opposition during the conference call because their microphones were turned off, Mr. Hermesh said.

“We won’t be partners in the WJC in these conditions. If there is no solution, it’s the end of the organization, because without Israel and Europe the organization has no meaning,” Mr. Hermesh said.

Stephen Herbits, secretary-general of the WJC, said in a telephone interview from New York that he didn’t see any basis for a split.

The WJC is committed to a full reporting of its financial transactions and once all financial records are in hand, “I don’t see any other major problem,” Mr. Herbits said. “I don’t see any basis for any disagreement.”

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