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July 19, 2013

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JULY 19, 2013 By Uriel Heilman NEW YORK (JTA)--After two months of Jewish com- munal squabbling following , the disclosure of a flubbed opportunity to detect a massive fraud scheme at the Claims Conference years before it was stopped, the Claims Conference appears to be moving on. At its annual meeting this week, the organization's board of directors debated for more than six hours the circumstances surrounding an anonymous letter sent to the conference in 2001 alleging that multiple false claims had been approved for restitution payments. Despite two investigations that year into the let- ter's allegations, fraud was not detected. Claims Con- ference employee Semen Domnitser, who was impli- cated in the letter, was able to continue running his scheme until 2009, racking up more than $57 million in fraudulent payouts over 16 years. He was convicted at trial two months ago. Faced with a public outcry following the revelation of this missed opportunity, a specially appointed Claims Conference committee com- missioned an investigation into the 2001 episode. But the committee's final rep.or t on the issue, sent to the board just before last week's meeting in New York proved highly controversial. It was disavowed by two of its four members and rebutted in a 21-page missive by the chief Rebuffing critics, Claims Conference reelects chairman and looks ahead executive of the Claims Con- ference, Greg Schneider. So after the lengthy de- bate, the board had a choice on July 10: Investigate" further and possibly purge the organization of the re- maining Claims Conference leaders associated with the failure, or move on. The board chose to move on, albeit with added mea- sures of caution. It voted unanimously to endorse the Claims Con- ference slate of officers-- including chairman Julius Berman, who as pro bono counsel oversaw one of the botqhed 2001 probes into the anonymous letter, and Schneider, who discovered the fraud four months after becoming chief executive in 2009. The board also voted unanimously to endorse the special committee's recom- mendations to form a new committee to review the ad- ministration, management and governance structure of the Claims Conference. But the board stopped short of endorsing the special committee's controversial report or the ombudsman's disputed findings, and it did not agree to any additional outside oversight, as some critics have demanded. Though outsiders will be included on the new com- mittee that is to review orga- nizational governance, the committee will not have any power other than to issue a report and make recom- mehdations to the board. Essentially, the board reaffirmed a central tenet of how it operates the Claims Conference: Outside critics may complain and demand more of a say in how the bil- lions of dollars in restitution money from Germany are handled and distributed, but ultimately the board will do what it wants. As one critic of the pro- cess told JTA on condition of anonymity, it's business as usual at the Claims Con- ference. To some outside critics, this is unconscionable. In their view, heads should roll for the conference's failure to detect a $57 million fraud. They point to the disputed ombudsman's report, which found a "litany of lack of diligence, competence and judgment" among senior Claims Conference leaders for their handling of the 200i episode. They com- plain that the organizations that comprise the board, formed in 1951 and little changed since, is unrep- resentative of the current JewiSh world, insufficiently transparent and uninter- ested in outside input. In their view there could not be a clearer need for change. But Claims Conference leaders say that misses the point. Yes, they say, there were significant failures in 2001--yet even the ombuds- man's report does not lay the blame on any one person and said there is no evidence that anyone tried to cover" up the 2001 episode. It was the Claims Conference that discovered the fraud in 2009 and brought it to the authorities. All 31 people who perpetrated the fraud were arrested and convicted of their crimes. And since 2009, new systems and Controls were put into place to prevent recurrence of fraud, includ- ing two outside auditing firms--one of which reports to the Germans. The staffers responsible for the failures in 2001 are gone from the Claims Con- ference--dead or retired. Though Berman played a role overseeing one of the failed 2001 probes and many outsiders called for his res- ignation, the board appears to endorse the view that Ber- man is not to blame and is better off at the board's helm than off it. (Berman also is a member of theJTA board.) "The plain truth is that there is one person to blame: the convicted criminal," Schneider wrote in his letter to the board. "All the main players ... missed it. And, I am sure that each regrets it. But, people are fallible." Perhaps most notably, in the years since the fraud was discovered, Claims Confer- ence officials say, they have been able to maintain the confidence of the German government, which bore the full cost of the $57 mil- lion fraud, That confidence is evident in the successes Claims Conference negotia- tors have had with Germany since 2009, including get- ting more classes of sur- vivors eligible for pensions and restitution payments, funding for home care for in- firm survivors. Even though the number of survivors drawing restitution pay-, rnents has dwindled as they have died, the total amount of restitution Germany pro- vides actually has increased since 2009, Claims Confer- ence officials note. It's unlikely that this will be enough to placate critics. If anything, the board's deci- sions last week may amplify their calls for reform. But there's little the critics can do about it. The committee created by the board last week may recommend additional PAGE 5. A. changes to how the Claims Conference operate, and it's possible that some changes eventually will be adopted. Ultimately, however, that will be up to the board of the Claims Conference. And as long as the Germans keep treating the Claims Confer- ence as the sole representa- tive of the Jewish people on restitution matters, those who have a problem with the way the organization operates--whether it's the Israeli prime minister or a survivor living in Florida-- won't be able to do much more thankvetch. Letters To The Editor HERITAGE welcomes and encourages let- " ters to the editor, but they must be typed or printed and include name and phone number. We will withhold your name if you so request. Please limit let.ters to 250 words. Due to space limitations, we reserve the right to edit letters. Send letters to P.O. Box 300742, Fern Park, FL 32730. Or e-mail to Dear Editor: Words can do much harm. Words such as two-state solution, land for peace, oc- cupy, occupation, divestment, sanctions, boycott, have done much harm to Israel. Every- one gets on the bandwagon, including Jews, to put those words into action. On the other hand, lack of words, Islamic terrorism, radical Islam, mutilation, honor.killings, can hide the true nature of dangerous but many of us have no clue. We do not see or hear about the danger to our country and Israel in the media. Those dangerous words have been stifled, so no attention is being paid to the oncoming danger, by so many of our citizens. I would like to see every- one reading beyond the local newspaper and The New York Times to find out what is really going on all over the world. Sandra Solomon Egypt p00L-'*a over Allah  dramatic increases in forces we are all up against, Casselberry In By David Suissa ment's,ideology: "The Broth- to allow other truths and I00o][Ie8 ASKED AND Jewish Journal of erhoodsobjectives[are]ofad- realities to penetrate your ANSO Greater Los Angeles It's tempting to see the chaos in Egypt right now, with President Morsiousted and his Muslim Brotherhood party discredited, as just another failure of government. But there's another aspect to this failure--and that is religion. It's conceivable that if hu- man. beings didn't have to eat, the holy clerics who have ben-running Egypt into the ground over the past year would still be in power. But if they want'to ever regain their credibility with the people who soured on them. they will have to learn a lesson that every religion needs to learn: God is not great at finding jobs and building economies. The Muslim Brotherhood was founded more than 80 years ago on a philosophy that "Islam is the solution." Well, it's not. Islam, like any reli- gion, can nourish your soul, increase your self-esteem, give you an identity, and comfort you in times of grief. But it can't run a government effectively, especially not a democratic government that is accountable to all the people. The Brotherhood is ac- countable first and foremost to Allah, their all-powerful God who determines their every act and belief. A newly translated book on Islam, "the Laws of Da'wa," published in 1995 by an fficial Brother- hood leader and reported in JPost, explains the move- vancing the global conquest of Islam and reestablishing the Islamic Caliphate, the public and private duties ofjihad and the struggle Muslims must wage against Israel." Not exactly the kind of ideology geared toward more mundane stuff like creating jobs, attracting more tourism, liberating women, improving education or energizing a country's economy. Those millions of people who dem- onstrated throughout Egypt weren't just screaming for their rights and their free- doms. They were screaming because so many of them are jobless and hungry. Morsi and his Islamic fun- damentalists took a suffer!ng nation desperate for life's es- sentials and managed to make things even worse. "Infla- tion, unemployment, govern- ment debtand poverty have all swollen markedly during Mr. Morsi's short tenure," report- ed the Economist. "Shortages of fuel and power are now chronic." In the end, hard reality--things like, "What will our children eat tonight?" or "We don't have enough gas to go to the hospital'--always trumps religion. Religion, when followed zealously, imbues zealots with the ar- rogance that comes from "owning" the divine Truth. When you're so intoxicated with this truth, when you be; lieve with absolute certitude that everyone else must have this truth, it is impossible consciousness--which is pre- cisely what a democratically elected leader is obligated to do. As Daniel Brumberg wrote on CNN's Web site, "Despite Morsi's inauguration day promise to represent 'all Egyptians,' in the year that followedl Brotherhood leaders communicated intolerance and arrogance to both their secular rivals and their Salafi competitors." Drunk on their truth, devoid of good ideas and sud- denly in a position of power, the Islamists couldn't help themselves: They simply made a grab for more power. It's not a coincidence that the Brotherhood was more respected and valued in Egypt when it was not in power--when it was focused on being a religion, and not on coercing acountry. Blinded by their arrogance, Morsi and the Brotherhood forgot the one crucial ingredient that comes with gaining demo- cratic power: accountability. Whoever runs Egypt in the future is now on notice: Don't ever forget that above and beyond everything else, above religion and above fancy statements of freedom and constitutions and human rights, the most fundamental human right is the right to work and feed your family. David Suissa writes for The Jewish Journal of Greater LOS Angeles, from which this article was reprinted by permission. 01= ALL PEOPLE ANO UNITE THE COUNT2Y IN A I=RESH, VIB2ANT, ANO NEW {)MOC2ACY