Bronfman axes Singer at WC

By NATHANIEL POPPER, JEWISH PRESS

The president of the World Jewish Congress announced that his organization is severing all ties with the organization’s long time professional leader, Rabbi Israel Singer, who has been one of the most recognizable faces in the Jewish world.

In the steering committee meeting on Wednesday, WJC president and former Seagram’s executive Edgar Bronfman, announced that he had decided to end the organization’s relationship with Singer, who has long been Bronfman’s most trusted advisor as well as his religious mentor.

According to the organization’s secretary general, Stephen Herbits, “This is something that Edgar did and informed the steering committee.

It’s fair to say that many members of the steering committee were surprised.”

During the meeting, which took place on a telephone call, “Edgar said, ‘There’s no one on this call who is sadder than I. I have treated this person like my son for 30 years,'” Herbits said.

Herbits declined to enumerate the specific reasons that Singer was let go: “The specifics can only make things worse for everyone involved.”

The move to cut with Singer, along with other announcements made by Bronfman, escalated tensions with some of the organization’s regional branches and could end up tearing apart the WJC, which has been one of the most storied and influential Jewish organizations of the last century. The leaders of the WJC’s Israeli and European branches both threatened to withdrawn in the hours after the meeting.

In a letter to Bronfman just hours after the meeting, the two leaders of the Israeli branch, member of Knesset Shai Hermesh, and Mati Droblas wrote, “We are disgusted by what has just transpired.”

The explosive meeting came after two years in which the World Jewish Congress has been roiled by controversy over the way Bronfman and Singer have run the organization during the last two decades. Bronfman and Singer jointly led a number of battles that defined the Jewish world, including Holocaust restitution and inter-faith relations, but critics increasingly said that the duo took too much power in their own hands.

An investigation by the New York attorney general found that Singer had improperly taken expenses from the organization. The attorney general barred Singer from further positions of financial leadership within the organization. After the report, Bronfman stood by Singer and kept him on as chairman of the newly formed World Jewish Congress Policy Council.

Herbits said the reason for the new decision to cut off Singer “wasn’t anything to do with the former set of allegations. These are things that developed separately.”

Singer had been heavily involved in all aspects of the World Jewish Congress over the last few decades, jetting around the world to represent the Jewish people in meetings with political and religious leaders.

During a long ranging interview Herbits said Singer had been brilliant at dealing with a number of areas, including inter-faith relations.

“Singer, he was brilliant, nothing short of brilliant in that area,”

Herbits said. “It’s unfortunate that he didn’t focus on it enough to the exclusion of other things, so that perhaps he could still be doing it, but he didn’t.”

The new moves come as the struggle to succeed Edgar Bronfman as the president of the WJC has heated up. Bronfman’s son, Matthew Bronfman, has made known his interest in the position but he is already facing stiff competition from a number of other Jewish leaders including Ronald Lauder, the New York philanthropist and art collector.

As the various controversies have drawn on, the New York office of the World Jewish Congress, which used to be run by Singer and is now run by Herbits, have ended up feuding with many of the local branches of the World Jewish Congress.

In the telephone meeting on Wednesday Bronfman announced he would be firing the long time director of the Israeli branch and taking new control of the branch. After the meeting, the leaders of both the Israeli and European branches sent letters to Bronfman saying they may withdraw if Bronfman does not reconsider his decisions. In a bizarre twist, the leaders of both branches, who are part of the organization’s steering committee, said they were cut off from the telephone conference and not able to register their dissent to Bronfman’s announcements.

The leaders of the Israeli branch wrote that “this conference call was not legal, since we, and possibly others, were excluded. Therefore we regard as null and void all the decisions taken during that discussion.”

Pierre Besnainou, the president of the European Jewish Congress, wrote a separate letter to Bronfman in which he said “I was shocked when you announced and informed the WJC steering committee via telephone that you have taken the decision to fire Israel Singer after 30 years of devoted service to the Jewish cause and this without any consultation.

I consider, at least, we need to get more explanation.”

March 15, 2007 | 2 Comments »

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2 Comments / 2 Comments

  1. There is more significance to this story then whether or not Bronfman was right to fire Rabbi Singer.

    Credit Bronfman for being a very bright guy, astute both in business and politics, both governmental and organizational.

    Given that, Bronfman had to have foreknowledge that his firing of Singer, without offering anyone an explanation to justify that act, would give rise to a storm of protest from those who saw Singer as a major asset to WJC.

    Bronfman in choosing to remain silent on his reasons for firing Singer has caused a storm of controversey within WJC and that can only negatively impact on the operations and effectivenss of WJC.

    Worse still, the ripples from Bronfman’s throwing a rock into the pool of WJC extend beyond the WJC organization per se. The controversey and turmoil within the WJC that Bronfman has caused, can only draw attention to and could perhaps worsen the disunity and appearance of conflict amongst sectarian Jews and the various Jewish organizations in terms their views on what is in Jewish interests and what is in Israel’s best interests.

    At a time when world Jewry needs and looks to strong leadership for guidance, this is no time for Bronfman to have acted as he did to cause the turmoil within WJC, without showing why his decision was right and his leadership at WJC is worthy of support.

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