Stephen Herbits has suddenly gotten angry. For the past hour, as a picturesque evening snow fell lightly on Madison Avenue, he has talked expansively about his background as a Washington insider, his twenty years as a key Seagram’s executive, and his current role as secretary-general of the World Jewish Congress.
Then I mention that several people from other Jewish organizations have said they were not at all surprised by the difficulties the World Jewish Congress has been facing, that its weak administration and sloppy record-keeping were an open secret. The WJC was, according to one insider, “a volcano waiting to erupt.”
Herbits, a tall, lean 62-year-old with gray hair and a gray beard, nearly levitates out of his chair, instantly going ballistic.
“As you talk to the leaders of the other Jewish organizations, check their accomplishments against their governance,” he says in a voice that’s rising to fill the room. “They’ve got perfect governance and no fucking accomplishments.
“If an investigation of Jewish organizational life takes place, I promise you that the last person standing will be Israel Singer,” he says, referring to the Brooklyn rabbi who is at the center of the controversy.
Since 1979, Singer and billionaire Edgar Bronfman have skillfully and productively run the powerful World Jewish Congress. But for the past eighteen months, the WJC has been embroiled in a vicious internal battle, fueled by money, politics, and vast egos. The fight has been so acrimonious and mean-spirited that it threatens the very existence of the 68-year-old institution.
Accusations of mismanagement, bizarre bank transactions, stolen e-mails and computer files, intimidation, and cover-ups, which stretch from New York to Geneva to Jerusalem, have reached a decibel level that has attracted the attention of the New York State attorney general’s office, which is in the midst of a preliminary investigation.Though the attacks focus mostly on Singer, Herbits, a longtime employee of Bronfman’s who was brought onboard six months ago to manage the crisis, seems to take it very personally. “There are no illegalities in Israel Singer’s behavior, and that is not true of some of the leaders of these other organizations,” he says, standing now.
“I know it and they know it and they better be careful, because if they cause enough problems in the press, then this organization won’t be the only one that has a preliminary inquiry from the attorney general’s office. Then you’ll see some real fireworks.”
Though the accusations he makes about other Jewish organizations are serious and sweeping—false IRS filings, misuse of funds, “outlandish” benefits packages, and lying to the government—Herbits refuses to name names. “You’re not going to get me to do that,” he snaps. “I’m not going to play that game.”
But given the chance, he doesn’t back down. Instead he ratchets up the rhetoric a notch. “I’m not going to sit by and let this organization take the rap for their behavior,” he says. “If we get into that kind of pissing match, this organization ain’t going down by itself.”
The man who built the organization, Edgar Bronfman, the street-smart, sometimes coarse, bullying businessman who took over the Seagram liquor dynasty started by his father, Sam, is commonly regarded as the king of Jewish philanthropy. In fact, there are some people who would simply call him king of the Jews.
Since he rescued the World Jewish Congress from the edge of extinction more than two decades ago, Bronfman, 75, has been its president, chief benefactor, and guiding force. Israel Singer has been with him since the beginning—he was a staff member in the New York office when Bronfman entered the picture, and the two formed an immediate bond. For the past 25 years, Bronfman and Singer have been the odd couple of organized Jewish life. Bronfman, the verbally clumsy, secular billionaire, who has been married five times to four different women (he even named one of his seven children Edgar Jr., a huge no-no for Jews of European ancestry), and Singer, the polished, smooth-talking Orthodox rabbi from Brooklyn who can, as one acquaintance put it without even a hint of irony, “sell sand to the Arabs.”
It is, according to people who know them, an unusual, interdependent relationship. “Bronfman sees Singer as his ticket to redemption,” says one peer. “Having been a secular Jew most of his life, he decided rather late that Judaism mattered to him, and Singer has, if you will, koshered him.”
For his part, Singer gets extraordinary access, which he has skillfully maximized to become one of the most powerful people in the organized Jewish world. In addition to the influence he wields as putative head of the WJC, he is president of the Claims Conference, which oversees distribution of German reparations, and chairman of the World Jewish Restitution Organization, which handles Holocaust money from other countries like Poland and Switzerland. Thus Singer effectively controls billions of dollars of Holocaust-related funds.
Under Bronfman and Singer, the achievements of the World Jewish Congress could hardly be more impressive. It was the WJC that exposed U.N. secretary-general Kurt Waldheim’s hidden past as a Nazi. When Carmelite nuns wanted to build a convent at Auschwitz, the congress waged a bitter but ultimately successful fight with the Vatican to stop the project. The WJC fought valiantly on behalf of Soviet Jews. And it was Bronfman and his organization that got the Swiss banks to own up to their role during World War II and pay more than a billion dollars in restitution.
Ironically, the root of the WJC’s troubles can be traced to its own Swiss bank account. Israel Singer deposited $1.2 million of WJC funds in a UBS account in Geneva. When the account was discovered—quite by accident—Singer was, particularly early on, less than forthcoming with an explanation. Still, the matter might have quietly gone away had it not been for a raucous political dispute that had erupted between Bronfman and a wealthy, irascible Australian Jew named Isi Leibler.
Leibler, 70, has been involved with the World Jewish Congress as long as Bronfman has. A leader in the Australian Jewish community who turned a local travel agency into a huge, international discount-travel business, Leibler moved to Jerusalem with his family five years ago. He and Bronfman have never really gotten along. In addition to their personal animus, they have passionate, deeply held political differences.
Bronfman, who is closely aligned with Israel’s Labor Party, believes peace between Israel and the Palestinians should be Israel’s overarching priority. He advocates significant compromise with the Palestinians, particularly on territory and the dismantling of Jewish settlements. Leibler takes a much harder line. He is far less interested in compromise with the Palestinians than he is in Israel’s security. Nevertheless, things had been relatively quiet between the two men—until the summer of 2003.
That summer, Bronfman wrote a letter to President Bush, which he got Lawrence Eagleburger to co-sign, urging him to take a more active role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Though the letter was fairly evenhanded, it did urge the president to pressure Ariel Sharon to make concessions, and it criticized Israel’s construction of a security fence—referring to it, in what the right views as the language of Israel’s opponents, as a “separation wall.”
“Bronfman sees Singer as his ticket toredemption. He decided rather late that Judaism mattered to him, and Singer has, if you will, koshered him.”
Leibler, a senior vice-president of the WJC, went nuts. Though Bronfman wrote the letter on personal stationery, Leibler contended it still carried the weight and the implied imprimatur of the World Jewish Congress. He was not alone in this feeling.
Finally, in what has been his battle cry ever since, Leibler accused Bronfman (he later broadened the charge to include Israel Singer) of running the World Jewish Congress as a “personal fiefdom” to promote his own agenda and argued that the organization was wholly without accountability and proper governance. He called on Bronfman to apologize for his letter or resign. Of course, Bronfman did neither. Instead, he threatened to have Leibler banished from the WJC.
And then it really got ugly. In an exchange of e-mails with Leibler, Bronfman said, “I’m writing this note despite my distaste for getting into a pissing match with a skunk.” Two days later, he wrote, “When this is over, the person I will feel sorry for is Naomi, your long-suffering wife.”
Bronfman was just as harsh in public. In an interview with The Forward that appeared on August 8, 2003, one day after the “long-suffering wife” e-mail, he called Leibler a “right-wing dog.” In the New York Sun that same day, Bronfman was quoted as saying that Leibler is an “arrogant twit” who “has decided that G-d is dead and he is taking his place.” In the same interview, he said Leibler is “to the right of Genghis Khan and a fool to boot.”
When a reporter from Canada’s National Post asked Bronfman if there were other members of the WJC who were unhappy about his letter to President Bush, he responded, “It’s just one idiot. He can go f— himself.”
“Bronfman doesn’t like me, and I don’t like him, but that’s not really the point,” says Leibler by phone from his apartment in Jerusalem. “Bronfman is considered to rule practically by divine right. Whenever he gets up and says anything, no matter how stupid, the prevailing attitude is, ‘This guy is paying for everything, so for God’s sake, keep quiet. Don’t upset him.’”
Leibler has a point. Justified or not, there is a fear of Bronfman and Singer in the organized Jewish world. It is a small community, and no one wants to risk getting shut out. “Those who know the WJC from up close,” says one insider, “understood long ago that it was being run as the personal agency of Edgar Bronfman and Israel Singer, with insufficient oversight, and no proper governing structure.”
It was almost impossible to get anyone to speak candidly on the record about either man. “There’s wholesale cowardice going on here,” says one Jewish leader with too much to lose to let me use his name.
This is undoubtedly one of the reasons why Leibler finds himself with so little public support. “Nobody takes Bronfman on,” he says. “But I don’t give a stuff about him. I’ve never respected him. There’s nothing there to respect. He’s not exactly a great intellect.”
For years, Bronfman single-handedly provided funding for the World Jewish Congress, writing an annual check to keep it going. He also used his power, prestige, and substantial personal contacts on behalf of the WJC, and it is difficult to imagine that the organization could’ve accomplished much without him.
There is a certain Wizard of Oz quality to the WJC. When you pull back the curtain, there’s not a whole lot there other than the implied power that comes from representing the world’s Jewish communities. Its primary mission is fighting anti-Semitism, and it responds, when crises occur, on a situational basis. Unlike the American Jewish Committee or the Anti-Defamation League, which have annual budgets that are at least four or five times that of the congress, the WJC does not run any ongoing programs or have any kind of infrastructure. The New York office, which is its world headquarters, has nine employees.
Leibler says that when Bronfman’s money was the only thing keeping the organization alive, you could make the argument that he was entitled to do whatever he wanted. “It’s still a public organization, and it’s still not nice, but I can see how he’d justify it.”
About fifteen years ago, the WJC began raising money through direct mail. Today, its annual budget is approximately $10 million, of which Bronfman kicks in about $2 million. The rest comes from contributors, just about all of them American. A lot of the contributions come in the form of $18 checks accompanied by notes in the frail handwriting of the elderly that say things like “Please help save the Jews.” (Jews often contribute in multiples of 18, the numerical equivalent of the Hebrew word chai, or “life,” which is considered good luck.)
Despite the ugly sniping over Bronfman’s letter and Israeli politics, the two men did come to at least a sort of temporary cold peace, if not quite a rapprochement. In fall 2003, a compromise was reached. To begin reforming the way the WJC was run, a three-man Operations Committee was appointed to oversee the workings of the organization. It included Leibler and Singer, as well as Elan Steinberg, another longtime WJC official.
Almost a year of relative calm followed the creation of the Operations Committee—and then the real problems started. In July 2004, a Swiss lawyer named Daniel Lack, who had suddenly been dismissed after 29 years in the WJC Geneva office, informed the Operations Committee of the $1.2 million Swiss bank account.
The story he told was essentially the following: Over a five-month period, Israel Singer quietly made five deposits totaling $1.2 million into a UBS account in Geneva. The last deposit, $200,000, was made in February 2003.
The money, according to Singer, came from a $1.5 million payment to the World Jewish Congress by the Jewish Agency in Israel. The two organizations have a historical link, and for years, whenever money was available, the Jewish Agency has contributed to the WJC.
As putative head of the organization, Singer—who relinquished the secretary-general’s title almost two years ago—had acted on his own. None of the people in charge of the WJC office in Geneva knew about the bank account.
However, when a young lawyer named Maya Ben-Haim Rosen was hired to run the Geneva office, she found that the bookkeeper was overpaying himself by $1,900 a month. She wanted to fire him immediately, but couldn’t because he was in the hospital recuperating from a heart ailment. At a meeting in London on June 29, 2003, she told the details to Singer and Avi Beker, who had replaced Singer as secretary-general of the WJC. The date is important because two days later, Singer flew to Geneva.
He located the bookkeeper and literally got him out of his convalescent bed. Singer took the bookkeeper to the bank, and had him sign off on a transfer of the funds to a London account held by an Israeli lawyer.
Leibler claims the people in the Geneva office only found out about the account several months later, in October, when the bank sent an overdraft notice. Since the account had been emptied, there were no funds to cover the $40 transfer fee.
Herbits argues vehemently, however, that the information was readily available to the people in the Geneva office. All they had to do was look for it.
Maya Ben-Haim Rosen was authorized to investigate the account. But over the next several months, she, along with Beker and Daniel Lack (the longtime legal adviser in the Geneva office), all of whom had pushed for a full investigation of the account, were dismissed. And the Geneva office, where the World Jewish Congress began 68 years ago, was closed. Beker, who had been secretary-general for only a year, was given a seven-figure payment that included a confidentiality agreement. Rosen also received a buyout that stipulated silence.
Herbits has an explanation for each of these events that has nothing to do with the $1.2 million. The Geneva office was actually closed, he argues, not by Singer but by the Operations Committee. However, like many of the details in this story, truth is in the eye of the beholder. Leibler counters, of course, that the committee closed the office because they were talked into it by Singer.
Similarly, according to Herbits, the employee terminations had nothing to do with any of them seeking a full accounting of the $1.2 million. He says Lack and Singer never got along and Lack was a disgruntled employee. Beker simply wasn’t working out as secretary-general, and so on. His bottom line is this: No one thought anything was amiss until after getting fired and being angry about it. Then, he claims, they tried to stoke the fires of controversy to get even. But as someone once said, it all seems too coincidental to be coincidental.
“Look,” Herbits says, “you can make an issue out of this because it smells. It looks bad. And it wasn’t perfectly done. There’s not a board of director’s signature on each transaction. But is there anything illegal? Is there anything criminal? Absolutely not.”
The issue, however, may not be so clear. Though Leibler has been very careful not to accuse Singer of anything illegal, he says, “you can read my mind.” One insider told me Singer’s strategy has been to promote the notion that after a lifetime of hard work devoted to the Jewish community, he is entitled to be compensated, that he has earned the money. And the mom-and-pop governance style Bronfman fostered gave Singer license to operate in a gray area.
“You have to understand,” this source says, “that Singer would say things like, ‘Maybe I wasn’t as careful with the administrative things as I should’ve been, but I was too busy defending the Jewish people.’ It sounds so noble, but the truth is to be found elsewhere. Proper administration of the organization would only have diminished his power and access to funds.”
In fact, in September, Singer told The Forward , in an attempt to explain the $1.2 million account, that the Jewish Agency placed the money in a New York account, “in recognition of his work on behalf of the Jewish people. The idea,” The Forward reported, “was to establish a fund that possibly would be used to fund his pension.” (The Jewish Agency has repeatedly denied this.) In August 2004, at the insistence of Leibler and Steinberg, the other member of the Operations Committee, the $1.2 million was finally returned to the WJC in New York. Leibler, meanwhile, wrote a fifteen-plus-page memo he planned to give to Bronfman, detailing what he believed were the organization’s key problems with administration, transparency, and accountability.
Leibler is adamant that the memo was for internal use only. Somehow Singer got his hands on a copy before Leibler formally presented it to Bronfman and the board, and he took it to The Jewish Week, which ran a significant story. Leibler claims that computer experts have confirmed his suspicion that someone hacked into his computer and stole the memo.
Singer refused to answer any questions from The Jewish Week editor Gary Rosenblatt about how he got the memo.
“Singer must’ve believed he could control the debate by doing this,” Leibler says. “He must’ve believed he could portray me as a madman who was trying to destroy his reputation and the organization because I was power hungry. And because I was jealous of him and Bronfman.”
By late last summer, the still-unexplained Swiss account, the problems at the WJC, and the feuding among its leaders became a major story in the Jewish media. Leibler was ranting to anyone who’d listen, while Singer and Bronfman hunkered down and ignored the calls for a comprehensive independent audit. Stonewalling made them look guilty of something, even if they weren’t.
“They can say whatever they want about me,” Leibler says, “but if they had nothing to hide, why was there such a hysterical response to my calls for a full audit?”
Herbits came onboard just before Labor Day. It is easy to see why Bronfman called him, even though Herbits hadn’t worked for him in seven years. Herbits, a longtime confidant of Donald Rumsfeld, has the kind of prodigious political talent that enabled him to be openly gay and sometimes outspoken on gay-rights issues and still serve at the highest levels of the Defense Department for every Republican president since Richard Nixon. His Pentagon specialty is personnel, and he played a key consulting role in helping Rumsfeld fill more than 40 critical positions.
Herbits says that, like the fired Geneva employees, Leibler has acted out of anger. He didn’t begin writing his memo until after he knew the Operations Committee was going to be disbanded and he would lose his power. “The idea that he wrote the memo as a white knight,” Herbits says, “that he’s a whistle-blower who just wanted to fix the institution and they wouldn’t let him, is pure bullshit.”
A disinterested third party with inside knowledge sees it differently. “The attempts to paint Isi Leibler as power hungry and as a right-wing nut are nothing more than a distraction,” says the source. “It’s simply an effort to discredit him and take the focus off the issues he’s raised.”
The World Jewish Congress was started in 1936 by Nahum Goldmann as a way of mobilizing Jews to protest the Nazis. Goldmann, a legendary figure in twentieth-century Jewish history, was also president of the World Zionist Organization, and he negotiated the early postwar reparations with Germany.
By the mid-fifties, as president of the World Jewish Congress, he was recognized by the U.N. as the spokesman for the world’s Jewish community. Though times have changed, it is a mantle of responsibility and authority that Bronfman now holds.
The congress is an international confederation of Jewish communities. There’s a European section, a Latin American section, and so on. These regional sections are made up of the Jewish communities in their part of the world. Other countries have officially recognized and designated Jewish communities—like the Board of Deputies in England and the Creif in France.
When Goldmann retired in the late seventies, he was briefly succeeded by Philip Klutznick, who went on to become Commerce secretary under President Carter. Bronfman took over in 1979. “He told me at the time,” says Leibler, “that he wanted the job for a year. He said he was not a religious Jew and being president of the congress for a year was his way of saying a kind of secular kaddish for his father. But he fell in love with it.”
It has always been an issue for the WJC that the one country other than Israel that matters most, the U.S., does not have an official Jewish community. Instead, it has a collection of Jewish organizations. To try to overcome this gap in the appearance of legitimacy, Bronfman moved the headquarters of the WJC from Europe to New York. (There is an American Jewish Congress, but it’s never been especially significant.)
“Rather than increasing their legitimacy,” says J. J. Goldberg, editor of The Forward , “they cut themselves off from their base. So, for the last twenty years, they’ve had a problem because they’re running this thing in New York that represents the Latin American Jewish Congress, the European Jewish Congress, and the Asian Pacific Jewish Congress.”
The shadow now cast on the World Jewish Congress is particularly difficult for Bronfman because it threatens to darken his legacy as a Jew, which he has worked tirelessly over the past quarter-century to build.
“You can make an issue out of this because it smells. It looks bad,” says Herbits.“But is thereanythingillegal? Is there anythingcriminal?Absolutely not.”
Bronfman belongs to one of the world’s most exclusive clubs, an impossibly elite gathering known as the “mega group.” It consists of about a dozen inconceivably rich Jews who get together several times a year—often in either Bronfman’s or Larry Tisch’s apartment—with an invited religious scholar to talk about ways to make Jewish culture in America better.
As part of the mega group’s work, Bronfman almost single-handedly revived Hillel, the campus organization for Jewish students that had become irrelevant. According to Singer, who agreed to speak to me one afternoon recently about anything other than the WJC dispute, Bronfman has visited more than 100 campuses in the past two or three years. The very successful Birthright program, which pays for young Jews to visit Israel, was also conceived and developed in these meetings.
Like some of the other members of the mega group, and many other assimilated Jews as well, Bronfman’s religious observance is as much a matter of personal style and taste as are the clothes he wears. He picks what appeals to him and ignores the rest. According to Singer, Bronfman has started his own shul, which meets in a social hall in his New York apartment building. Being a billionaire, he likes to run things his own way, and that includes religious services. “He doesn’t like the formal, ceremonial nature of most synagogues,” Singer says. “He likes the readings from the prayer books done and then explained and talked about.”
Similarly, though his diet is not kosher by any formal definition, like many Jews, he doesn’t eat what he refers to as “biblically prohibited” food, such as pork and shellfish. “He’s unsophisticated in his language and he probably needs help reading the Hebrew when he’s at a service,” says The Forward ’s Goldberg. “But he has a heart of gold and he will fly anywhere and do anything to help Jews.”
Separate and apart from whether he’s right or wrong, there is intense anger with Leibler in some quarters of the Jewish community. They blame him for this unseemly fight’s becoming public. Airing the dirty laundry of a scandalous internecine battle with plenty of craven behavior will always upset people, no matter what group or organization is being exposed. But the feeling is particularly acute in this instance because of the Swiss and the issue of Holocaust restitution.
Bronfman and Singer played a kind of high-wire act with the Swiss. The Swiss never liked the fact that an American billionaire was flying over in his private jet to plead the poverty of the Jewish people.
“It’s tough enough,” says Goldberg, “to say, ‘Give me money because of something your great-grandparents did two generations ago.’ The Swiss think that Bronfman and Singer shook them down. It has generated a lot of resentment against Jews, and it isn’t helpful when Isi Leibler then starts implying that the key people are stealing.”
Even some Swiss Jews weren’t happy when the restitution negotiations began. They viewed Bronfman and Singer as American cowboys, Goldberg says, coming over to stomp on their rights. Herbits, who was involved in the negotiations, agrees. “They said, ‘You’re humiliating us and creating anti-Semitism.’”
Herbits was on the first trip with Bronfman when he met the Swiss bankers in 1998. “The bankers there have a club which is in a great, grand old building,” he says. “We were shown to a waiting room, which was very ornate and very beautiful, as you can imagine. Singer, Edgar, and I stood there waiting for 30 minutes.”
The reason they stood, he says, is there were no chairs in the room. “Then the bankers walked in, six or eight of them in a perfectly straight line, just like in a movie,” Herbits continues. “And the first one pulls a statement out of his jacket pocket and reads it to Edgar. No introductions, no handshakes, nothing. We’re about to have lunch with these people, and this is what they do.”
In the statement, they offered Bronfman $37 million if he would simply go away. “The entire world of Swiss restitution would be different if they hadn’t insulted him that way,” Herbits says.
In fact, it didn’t improve much as negotiations moved forward. A little later on, Bronfman, Singer, and Avraham Burg, the former head of Israel’s Labor Party who was then running the Jewish Agency, were seated across the table from the chairman of the Swiss bankers’ association and the chairman of Credit Suisse.
“One of the bankers leaned across the table,” Singer remembers, “and said, ‘You must be mad if you claim that you had hundreds of millions of dollars in our banks. You know, as I do from having seen all the pictures of the Jews of Europe during World War II, that they were all clothed in rags. They were impoverished.’”
Singer, an accomplished, engaging raconteur, believes it was one of the most critical moments in the negotiations. “Edgar looked at them and very quietly but very firmly said, ‘That’s a disgusting thing to say about an entire people. It’s an insulting remark, and I’m very sorry you made it because it will color the nature of our negotiations.’”
“Edgar wasn’t there to negotiate money,” Herbits says. “It was all about the principle, about moral restitution. He wanted an admission that the Swiss had a role in the problem. Their behavior was abominable.”
Herbits has no doubt that a big part of the reason this controversy involving the WJC and Leibler has received so much attention and lasted this long is due to the Swiss component. “There’s just too much glee among some Jews about this. Isn’t it funny, they say, that Singer gets caught up in a secret Swiss bank account. Ultimately, does it hurt the Jews? Of course it does.”
Negotiating an agreement with the Swiss, however, illustrates how effective Bronfman and Singer can be. They know how to play hardball. In Venezuela, there is a small remaining Jewish community of perhaps 25,000 people that has been having problems of late with the government. A couple of months ago, the State Police stormed into the Jewish school and the athletic club. Though the official reason for the raids was that the police were searching for weapons, the real purpose, according to Herbits, was intimidation and harassment.
Community members called the regional office of the Latin American Jewish Congress, which issued a statement and then immediately called New York. Singer, according to Herbits, then called the Venezuelan ambassador to the U.N. and told him there was a problem. “Do you think it would be helpful if Mr. Bronfman flew down and met with President Chávez?” he asked. “Perhaps they can meet and then hold a joint press conference with the international media where they can issue a statement that your country is beating the shit out of its Jews.”
The ambassador got the message. “That’s how this organization takes care of small communities,” Herbits says. “That’s the mission, and they do it all over the world.”a couple of weeks ago, the World Jewish Congress held an emergency session in Brussels. It was the organization’s first worldwide meeting in more than four years. Though no one will admit it, it was called because of l’affaire Leibler. Bronfman, Singer, and Herbits knew they couldn’t stop the attorney general’s investigation, but they could at least put an end to the battle within the organization.
Leibler knew he’d be overmatched if he went to Brussels, but he was determined to have his say. As he drove through the streets of Jerusalem on his way to the airport, he could see the posters that had been put up all over the city calling him a traitor to the Jewish people for telling tales about the community to outsiders.
In Brussels, where Leibler was promised 30 minutes of speaking time, 40 minutes were spent debating whether to let him talk at all. In the end, he got less than 10 minutes from the floor, not the podium, and he could barely be heard over those trying to shout him down. As he expected, he was not reelected to his post as vice-president.
When Bronfman addressed the organization’s assembled representatives, he didn’t mention the conflict at all. He talked only about the future. And he left no doubt about his feelings for Singer. Near the end of his remarks, he said no one has done more for the Jewish people than Singer. Then, in full view of Israeli TV cameras, he walked over to Singer, kissed him, and said, “I love you.”As far as Herbits, Bronfman, and Singer are concerned, they have put the entire matter behind them. Though Herbits says the WJC has instituted a host of changes in its administrative practices, he will not give Leibler any credit for the changes. He argues they would have happened anyway.There is still the looming problem of the New York State attorney general’s inquiry. To date, the WJC has spent more than $1 million on the crisis, including PR reps and several audits, the latest by PricewaterhouseCoopers. Leibler says, however, it’s a gloss over the books, not an in-depth look.
Herbits says he wants a definitive statement from the attorney general’s office that will end the discussion once and for all. Somewhat surprisingly, he adds, “Then we’ll know if Leibler was right or wrong.”
But even if the World Jewish Congress is cleared, the damage may already have been done. “These are difficult times,” says one insider, “and it pains me greatly that everyone in the Jewish community will pay a price for what’s happened. All we have is our credibility, and it’s very tough to get it back.”