DuBow Digest Germany Edition June 30, 2014
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An American Jewish - German Information & Opinion Newsletter

An American Jewish - German Information & Opinion Newsletter

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DuBow Digest Germany Edition June 30, 2014 Document Transcript

  • 1. 1 AN AMERICAN JEWISH – GERMAN INFORMATION & OPINION NEWSLETTER dubowdigest@optonline.net GERMANY EDITION June 2014 IN THIS EDITION THE KIDNAPPING- It’s more than just a simple crime. CONVERSION - Could it get easier to become a Jew? PALESTINIAN RECONCILIATION? If the kidnapping episode doesn’t destroy the “unified” Palestinian government will it implode on its own? ISRAEL’S NEW PRESIDENT – What sort of a force will he become? THE HOUSE OF ONE – Three faiths in one Berlin house. Will it work? THE CANTOR DEMISE – The Jewish American politician not the prayer chanter. CLAIMS CONFERENCE FUTURE – The disburser of Holocaust funds thinks it over. Dear Friends: The past month has seen Israel and other matters of Jewish interest drop beneath the radar in Germany. There was some minor violence reported at a pro-Israel rally in Hamburg with the injuring of an elderly non-Jewish Israeli supporter. But, frankly, not much else happened. Both countries seem to be focused on problems closer to their own shores. And, besides, there is so much in the way of war, terrorism, and killing in and among the non- Israeli Middle East countries that the Israeli – Palestinian matter has been relegated to the back burner. Syria and Iraq alone have produced more violence and death that there is little room on the front pages for any other issue. In Israel, however, the kidnapping of their three students (see story below) has made a lot of news there and in
  • 2. 2 the American Jewish press as well. German Defense Minister von der Leyen made the rounds in both Washington and New York. In NYC she was warmly received at the AJC where I had a chance to see, hear and meet her briefly. She’s impressive and as far as I could tell a good friend of the Jewish people. We are about to celebrate our “national day”, the 4th of July this coming week so things will slow down here. So, without further ado let’s get on with the news… P.S. By the time you get this the Germany U.S. Fussball game will either be starting or finishing. We’ll still be friends after it’s over. However,… LET’S GO USA! BEAT GERMANY! THE KIDNAPPING By this time, one week after the kidnapping of three Israeli students, I’m pretty sure that if you read (or hear or watch) your own media you have heard about it. I won’t go into much detail about the crime itself for two reasons. First, other than the abduction in the West Bank close to a very large Israeli “settlement” (actually a small city) and the telephone call by one of the students that went unattended there is not much else that is known. Second, the very extensive search for the victims is still on-going with very little information about what they’ve found so far being made public. We just do not know very much. We do know, however, that this episode has hit both the Israeli and the worldwide Jewish population very hard. What is being discussed widely, if not the facts, are the political implications of the crime. Time reports, “The kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers is not just a tragedy for their families. The massive Israeli military operation it has sparked has exposed wide gaps between the two major Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, and threatens to end the cooperation pact their leaders signed only last month. And it is causing Palestinian chief Mahmoud Abbas to put his leadership at risk. Jerusalem officials acknowledge that while the main goal of the Israeli Defense Forces’ (IDF) operations in the West Bank is to locate and free the teenagers, they also hope to weaken Hamas in the process by dismantling its military, political, financial and educational infrastructure in the West Bank. Though moving slowly, Israel risks a widening of the hostilities on the eve of the month- long Ramadan holiday. With rockets from Gaza and the death of an Israeli teen in the Golan Heights over the June 21 weekend, and with Israeli retaliation on both borders, what started as a kidnaping could engulf the whole region. It could also strengthen Abbas by weakening his internal opposition from Hamas.
  • 3. 3 Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, signed a unity agreement with Hamas last month, but now he is said to be livid about the abduction, which he sees as an attempt to undermine his strategy of pressuring Israel to accommodate his demands by nonviolent means. He has instructed his forces to cooperate with Israel and help free the teenagers—an approach that has angered Hamas officials. Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said Hamas is behind the kidnapping, although Israel declined to produce concrete evidence that the terrorist organization was responsible. Israeli troops are concentrating much of their operation, their most massive since 2002, around the West Bank’s southern city of Hebron, a Hamas stronghold where the teens are believed to be hidden. Fatah officials said that if Hamas is behind the attack, it would mean the end of the unity pact signed in May after the collapse of the U.S.-led peace negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel. Hamas praised the kidnappers but has declined so far to take responsibility for the abduction. “Hamas terrorists are behind this abduction—that we know for certain,” said Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner, an IDF spokesman. “The reason we’re being secretive” about the evidence of Hamas’s complicity “is that we don’t want to hand over any information that can give them the upper hand.” “Those who perpetrated this act want to destroy us,” Abbas said in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. “The three young men are human beings just like us and must be returned to their families,” he added in what was seen as a courageous statement contradicting wide support for the abduction among Palestinians. In Gaza, a Hamas spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri, was quick to respond, calling Abbas’s statements, and his vow to cooperate with Israel, “unjustified” and “harmful to Palestinian reconciliation.” It is “a psychological blow to the thousands of Palestinian prisoners suffering a slow death in the occupation’s jails,” Abu Zuhri said. The public clash between the two sides of the Palestinian government all but ended hopes for unity between the parties, which culminated when Abbas presented a new administration June 2. The new unity government was the result of an agreement that for the first time brought Hamas under the umbrella of the Palestinian National Council, the top decision-making body. As part of the pact, an election was planned for January 2015. Gaza, under Hamas control, and the Fatah-ruled West Bank would unite. If, indeed, Hamas is behind the abduction it is one of the earth shaking events that could harm them badly with the EU countries and do away with the peace process permanently. Yes! It’s only three kids. However, the situation is so charged emotionally that its implications may not recede for a very long time. CONVERSION The Jews worldwide are a small people. According to Judaism Online, “The worldwide Jewish population is 13.3 million Jews. Jewish population growth worldwide is close to
  • 4. 4 zero percent. From 2000 to 2001 it rose 0.3%, compared to worldwide population growth of 1.4%. In 2001, 8.3 million Jews lived in the Diaspora and 4.9 million lived in Israel. Just about half of the world’s Jews reside in the Americas, with about 46 percent in North America. Approximately 37% of worldwide Jewry lives in Israel. Israel's Jewish population rose by 1.6% the past year, while the Diaspora population dropped by 0.5%. Throughout the Jewish diaspora world there are many on-going education programs to enhance Jewish identity. One of its many goals is to counter assimilation and to hold on to as many Jews as possible – as Jews. Numbers are important. However, while there are attempts to convert non-Jews to Judaism those efforts are small. There are practically no “marketing” or pro-active attempts at conversion. In fact, when an individual decides on conversion it is a difficult process. With massive intermarriage in the U.S. and the loss particularly of the children of such unions the question liberalizing the conversion process has begun to emerge. Recently, Forward, perhaps the best known American Jewish weekly (and website), devoted an editorial to the issue. It noted, “We who care about sustaining the future of the modern Jewish family, who want to confront the tide of assimilation and disengagement with positive, affirming Jewish values, or who simply like being Jews and want to pass that along, need to radically rethink conversion. Instead of playing hard-to-get, or acting as if Jews are part of a club with admission standards higher than Harvard Law School, we need to open our arms, drop our reluctance, lower the barriers and not just welcome converts to join our synagogues. We need to encourage people to become Jews, in their way, in their time — especially when marriage and child rearing are involved. “Some people don’t talk about money or sex. Jews don’t talk about conversion,” notes Rabbi Joy Levitt, executive director of the JCC in Manhattan, who has thought a lot about this issue. “I don’t understand why. I think it’s a wonderful thing. I have a lot of confidence in the tradition’s ability to work its magic on people.” Think this isn’t a problem? Read the latest issue of Voices of Conservative/Masorti Judaism, which to its credit published a couple of pointed articles criticizing the status quo. “I think it’s hard for anyone who grew up Jewish to understand how intimidating — how downright scary — it can be for a non-Jew to set foot in a synagogue or make an appointment with a rabbi to discuss conversion,” writes Darcy R. Fryer, a historian and teacher who converted in 1998. The title of her story, “Too Long a Wait,” suggests one of the barriers placed before the convert. Fryer studied for 14 months; many rabbis require at least a year, ostensibly to experience the annual Jewish calendar. There’s the cost — hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, in conversion classes. There’s the tradition of turning away a would-be convert three times, just to test her resolve and dedication.
  • 5. 5 Why stretch out what is essentially an emotional decision? As Fryer writes, “most of my figuring out how to live as a Jew came after I converted, just as couples figure out how to be married after they get married and parents how to parent after they have children.” There is, let’s be honest, an underlying hypocrisy here: We ask more of the convert than we do of the Jew by birth. That’s especially true as the number of Jews “of no religion” increases and the intermarriage rate soars for the non-Orthodox, two key findings of last year’s Pew Research Center’s survey of American Jews. We don’t ask Jews by birth to study for a proscribed time, to pass a test, to prove themselves. All you need is one Jewish parent and little else in your life to qualify for a free trip to Israel with Taglit- Birthright. For centuries, there was good reason for Jews to hold tight to the clan and avoid even the appearance of proselytizing, lest they antagonize their neighbors and the powers- that-be. But the situation is reversed now. Our reticence to promote ourselves and our reluctance to welcome newcomers is the exact opposite of what’s expected in the digital age. Obviously, for Orthodox Jews today, the idea of conversion liberalization is a non- starter. However, for the rest of us (or, at least many of us), if the Jewish community is to remain strong and have adequate numbers the ideas proposed by this article make a lot of sense. As far as I personally am concerned, if someone wants to become a Jew why should we put roadblocks in their way? Some of the most dedicated Jews are converts. We could use more like them. To read the entire Forward editorial click here. http://forward.com/articles/199214/why- is-it-so-hard-to-convert-to-judaism/? A second Forward article dealing with the religious problems that would have to be solved if conversion was to be liberalized. Its author, Zvi Zohar, points out, “Judaism possesses a rich and diverse religious-cultural tradition, woven together from biblical times to the present by talented and creative individuals and communities. Furthermore, Jews have developed a strong and vibrant sense of togetherness, kinship and family — a resource increasingly valuable in times such as ours. Is it not reasonable to assume that of all the tens of millions of non-Jews seeking fulfillment, many could find meaning and satisfaction in Judaism? Rabbis and other Jews have forgotten that Judaism has a tradition of attracting adherents not born as Jews. If Orthodox rabbis are indeed (as they see themselves) the true keepers of the halachic (Jewish law) tradition, they are especially called upon to acknowledge all of the above, and to respond to the strategic call of responsibility for the future not only of Orthodox Jews, but also of all God’s flock. To read more of the Zohar article click here: http://forward.com/articles/199505/the- talmudic-case-for-conversion/#ixzz33shAjaCp
  • 6. 6 PALESTINIAN RECONCILIATION? The breakdown of the Israeli – Palestinian peace talks and the establishment of a new Palestinian cabinet made up mostly of tech types have given a new life to journalists on all sides who have axes to grind and brilliant opinions to be shared. I read everything on the subject that I could but am still left to wonder about this new cabinet and what sort of impact it will have. The one piece that I think sheds some light on this subject comes from Nidal al- Mughrabi, a Gaza based journalist writing for Reuters. He opines, “The swearing in of a Palestinian unity government on Monday will not end the divisions that have plagued the West Bank and Gaza Strip for years, providing a veneer of harmony but little change on the ground, analysts say. Although no longer in government, the Islamist group Hamas will maintain power in its Gaza stronghold, while the Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas will remain largely unchallenged in his high-walled Ramallah headquarters. The government, packed with little-known technocrats and academics, will manage the day-to-day problems facing the Palestinians, like a glorified municipality, but decisions regarding diplomacy and security will be taken elsewhere. "Such a government won't be able to end the divisions. It is rather a political body aimed at managing the division," said Hani Al-Masri, a political analyst in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where Abbas's Palestinian Authority has limited autonomy. Eight years after Hamas stunned the West by winning Palestinian legislative elections, and seven years after it crushed forces loyal to Abbas in Gaza, the new government is meant to close a cycle of bloodshed, hatred and disunity. Israel has promised to make life difficult for any cabinet backed by Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel, but the rest of the world is looking on cautiously, waiting to see how much influence the Islamist group will wield over decision-making. Born more out of need than conviction, the unity pact is aimed at extracting both Abbas and Hamas from their separate crises, without undermining their personal power bases. Flying high two years ago, Hamas's fortunes slumped after the ousting last summer of their Muslim Brotherhood allies in neighboring Egypt. The new military rulers in Cairo quickly shut off smuggling tunnels into Gaza - Hamas's financial lifeblood - piling pressure on the group at home and abroad. Increasingly unpopular in overcrowded Gaza, Hamas hopes the birth of a new government will persuade Egypt to open their sealed-off border and break an air of siege over the enclave. For Abbas, the unity pact might prop up his own sagging popularity at a time when yet another round of peace talks with the Israelis have collapsed. Elected president in 2005,
  • 7. 7 his mandate expired five years ago, and officials say he did not want to be remembered as the man who left a divided Palestine. ELUSIVE ELECTIONS According to the terms of the accord, Palestinians are meant to return to the polls in six months. If they do, then real unity might be on the cards, but few believe that either side wants to rush to the ballot box during such uncertain times. "The elections will not happen," said George Giacaman, the dean of graduate studies at the West Bank's Birzeit University. "Forming a government is a symbolic step. It is a good step, but we should not exaggerate the expectations." One of the most important elements left untouched by the unity deal was the question of security, an omission that means Hamas in Gaza will remain in control of its own police and armed fighters, who together total some 45,000 men. We exit governance, but we do not exit power," Hamas's deputy leader Ismail Haniyeh said last week. Hamas has fired hundreds of rockets into neighboring Israel over the years, and although it has made clear it remains in charge of its arsenal, Israel has said it will henceforth hold Abbas responsible for any attacks out of Gaza. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also threatened to put a financial stranglehold on the Palestinians, who are dependent on the Israeli banking system. Abbas has warned that he will end security cooperation with Israel if faced by financial sanctions. By the same token, he has sought to allay Israeli concerns, saying the new government recognizes Israel and is committed to finding a negotiated settlement to their generations-old conflict. His words have yet to reassure Israel, which fears that Hamas militants will now be able to operate more easily within the West Bank -- something that was hitherto prevented thanks to the close security ties between Abbas and Israel. DEMILITARIZED Netanyahu is also concerned that Hamas, freed from the confines of Gaza, will press to join the Palestine Liberation Organization -- an umbrella group for political parties that is tasked with conducting peace negotiations with Israel. "For the Israelis, it is not a very good idea to let Hamas maneuver tactically for the purpose of trying to increase its power ultimately both in the West Bank and the PLO, while maintaining exclusive control in Gaza," said Ehud Yaari, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "Abbas has accepted the principle of a demilitarized Palestinian state, but Gaza is not demilitarized. Nothing is going to change," he said.
  • 8. 8 In my opinion Nidal al-Mughrabi gives a pretty unbiased and honest evaluation of the current Palestinian situation. However, things can change quickly so what is “true today” may prove to be false tomorrow. As complicated and as possibly fraught with danger as this situation is, eternal journalistic vigilance is called for. We’ll try to provide as much of it as we can. ISRAEL’S NEW PRESIDENT All good things, sooner or later, come to an end. And, so it is that the term for Israel’s current President, Shimon Peres, will come to an end in July. No matter where one stands on the political spectrum, I think it is generally agreed that this man of great stature made an outstanding president for the State of Israel. The new President come July will be Reuven Rivlin of the Likud Party. President-elect Rivlin’s victory was not won by a unanimous vote. In fact, it was a relatively close vote 63-53 that assured him of victory. Though he has been the Speaker of the Knesset twice and is a veteran lawmaker, he comes to office with a few problems to overcome. First, of course, is the fact that he is following an icon, a legitimately great man. He has big shoes to fill and, fairly or unfairly, he will be measured against his predecessor. In the past he has been critical of segments of American Jewry. JTA notes, “Rivlin drew criticism from Reform and Conservative rabbis for past negative statements about Reform Judaism. He called Reform Judaism “idol worship” in 1989 and in 2007, in a run for president, would not say whether he would refer to Reform rabbis by their title if he were elected. However, he did say, “I respect any person chosen to lead his or her community, and God forbid I invalidate him because he is from one stream or another,” Rivlin told The Jerusalem Post in an interview published June 6. “The President’s Office represents all streams and denominations in society. The job of the president is to bridge conflicts, not create conflicts.” Rivlin was first elected to the Knesset in 1988 and twice served as its speaker. A self- identified disciple of Revisionist Zionism founder Zeev Jabotinsky, Rivlin opposes territorial concessions to the Palestinians and wants Israel to retain the West Bank. He has said that he supports giving Israeli citizenship to West Bank Palestinians. The role of the Israeli President, much like that of the German President, is largely ceremonial. However, that does not mean it is insignificant. In many ways the President sets a moral tone for both the government and the people. For the Jewish Israelis, being that they are so closely linked, geographically and otherwise to the Palestinians, the voice of the President can be of great importance. No matter what past positions were, being the President calls for a thoughtful re-evaluation. As he said, “The job of the president is to bridge conflicts, not create conflicts.”
  • 9. 9 THE HOUSE OF ONE I’m not too sure what to make of it. However, it was recently announced in The Local that, “A €43.5 million project to construct a building where Jews, Muslims and Christians can pray together under one roof in the centre of Berlin moved a step closer… Called the House of One, the building would become the first in the world built together by the three religious to pray in. It will house a church, synagogue and a mosque. The fundraising campaign was launched in Berlin on Tuesday with the symbolic handover of the first brick. Financed by sponsors, anyone can donate money online, with one brick costing €10. The idea for the House of One came about in 2009 following archaeological excavations on the south side of the Museum Island. Remnants of the city's medieval centre were found and the religious leaders decided to build on the foundations to symbolize the religions longest associated with Berlin. “We quickly agreed that something visionary and forward-looking should be built on a historic place such as Petriplatz, the founding site of Berlin,” said Vicar Gregor Hohberg who initiated the project. “The basic idea behind House of One is to bring people together who know little about each other. Ignorance is often the basis of rejection,” Rabbi Tovia Ben-Chorin added. Imam Kadir Sanci, who together with the other two men is on the board of the project, said: “The aim of our construction is to consciously promote non-violent and open dialogue between different religions and cultures. Everyone is welcome and invited to discover previously unknown aspects of other religions.” Construction will start when the first €10 million has been raised.” The Jewish community leadership in Berlin is certainly on the Orthodox side so it’s hard for me to see them giving any real support to this kind of communal building with a synagogue that is housed with other religious institutions. Rabbi Ben-Chorin, who is mentioned as the Jewish “founder” is Reform and is connected to Potsdam’s Geiger Kolleg. They are pretty independent so, perhaps, they will just go ahead with the project. 43.5 Euro is a great deal of money. Perhaps Hohberg has government connections so that some of the funding will come from that source. Large industrial corporations might also kick in but, again 43.5 Euro is a lot of the green stuff (or are Euros a different color?). It also occurs to me that the Catholics aren’t mentioned as supporters. I can’t believe that they’re not important.
  • 10. 10 I don’t want anyone to get the idea that I’m against The House of One. It’s just that I don’t see it working out. I hope I’m wrong. A little religious understanding in Berlin would be something very positive. THE CANTOR DEMISE No! I am not referring to the person who chants the prayers in a synagogue. Perhaps more important, I’m talking about the highest ranking elected Jewish politician in the U.S. Eric Cantor (Republican – Virginia), the Majority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives was soundly defeated in a primary election by a previously unknown university professor. Politico reports, “With House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s startling ouster in a primary election this week, the man who was on a track to be the highest-ranking Jewish official in American history now appears consigned to the status of a “Jeopardy” [a TV quiz show] answer. His defeat has left Jewish organizations in both parties reeling, especially the GOP’s long-suffering Jewish coalition groups. Cantor was – and for now [until Jan. 1, 2015], remains – the No. 2 Republican in a conference of 233 lawmakers. But for Jewish Republicans, Cantor is a singular figure, the only Jewish member of the House majority and the lone Jewish leader in a party that has strenuously courted the community in recent presidential elections, to little avail. Matt Brooks, the RJC [Republican Jewish Coalition] president, called Cantor’s primary “one of those incredible, evil twists of fate that just changed the potential course of history.” “There are other leaders who will emerge, but Eric was unique and it will take time and there’s nobody quite like Eric in the House to immediately fill those shoes,” Brooks said. “I was certainly hoping that Eric was going to be our first Jewish speaker.” Across the aisle, the reactions to Cantor’s defeat ranged from shock and distress to barely-restrained glee. For partisan Jewish Democrats, Cantor has long been a supremely annoying figure, perceived as a front man for a conservative party that’s hostile to the values a strong majority of Jews share on issues from economic inequality to gay marriage to immigration, the central animating issue of Cantor challenger Dave Brat’s campaign. Cantor’s demise does not leave the Congress bereft of Jews. In fact there are 10 Jewish Senators and 21 other House Representatives who are Jews. However, none (none!) are Republicans. I don’t think it’s a secret that Most American Jews are liberal and, to a very large extent, Democrats. In the last few years, as the Republican Party has moved to the right, those
  • 11. 11 more centrist Republicans have been marginalized. Therefore, fewer candidates. That is not to say that there are no Jewish Republicans. American Jews are members of all parties. However, they don’t become Republican candidates very often.. Incidentally, but not unimportant, is the question of whether Eric Cantor being Jewish had any impact on his loss. It certainly doesn’t look that way. However, some mention has been made that the region he represents has had its borders changed in the last re- districting. It now has in it more rural area with its very conservative voters. There is really no way to know. It is much too early to try and figure out what Cantor’s defeat portends for American politics. Will the House of Representatives which is already very conservative move even further to the right? Will it benefit the Democrats? We will just have to give it time and see how it works out. CLAIMS CONFERENCE FUTURE As many of you know the Claims Conference on Material Claims Against Germany (better known as just The Claims Conference) is the organization (Wkipedia) “…that represents world Jewry in negotiating for compensation and restitution for victims of Nazi persecution and their heirs. The Claims Conference administers compensation funds, recovers unclaimed Jewish property, and allocates funds to institutions that provide social welfare services to Holocaust survivors and preserve the memory and lessons of the Shoah.” Since it is approaching the time when there will no longer be living survivors of the Holocaust, the Conference is beginning to think through what its role should be when that time is reached. JTA recently reported, “A special panel tasked with examining the governance and strategic vision of the Claims Conference is recommending that the organization shift its long-term focus to Holocaust education and remembrance, JTA has learned. The new recommendations, outlined in two hefty documents sent to Claims Conference board members last week and this week and obtained by JTA, will go to a vote when the board holds its annual meeting in New York on July 8. Consisting of board members and outside experts and guided by Accenture consultants, the special panel was charged with reviewing the administration, management and governance structure of the Claims Conference, which obtains Holocaust restitution and compensation from Germany and Austria. The central question the panel examined was what the Claims Conference should do after the last of the survivors dies. Three possible courses of action were given serious consideration: shutting down; funding education and remembrance projects; or shifting its focus to general Jewish educational programming, helping victims of other genocides obtain restitution or preserving Jewish cultural sites in the former Soviet Union.
  • 12. 12 Given the Claims Conference’s successes at convincing Germany to increase its funding for survivors, the panel concluded that “to close down without attempting to leverage its position and significant experience in the service of Holocaust education and remembrance would be to miss a major opportunity.” In an interview with JTA, the Claims Conference’s chief executive, Greg Schneider, emphasized that Holocaust education isn’t new to the Claims Conference: The organization currently funds education and remembrance to the tune of $18 million per year with money obtained from the sale of unclaimed Jewish properties in the former East Germany. The Claims Conference has always dealt with the consequences of the Shoah,” Schneider said of the board’s mandate for the organization. “When that meant direct payments to survivors, we did that. When that meant rebuilding communities, we did that. When that meant home care [for elderly survivors], we did that. Educating people about the Shoah and confronting Holocaust denial all deal with consequences of the Shoah. To be faithful to our mandate, we should continue to do that. And we are uniquely qualified to do so.” The new vision for the Claims Conference hinges on the organization’s ability to get material support for it from the perpetrators of the Holocaust — namely Germany, but also Austria and companies complicit in the Nazi genocide. If that funding cannot be secured, the Claims Conference should go out of business once there are no survivors left, Schneider said. “If we’re unable to get money from perpetrator governments, and the survivors have all died, we should close down,” he said. “We should not try to reinvent ourselves into something else.” Stuart Eizenstat, a lead Claims Conference negotiator and special assistant to Secretary of State John Kerry on Holocaust issues, said he’s optimistic about getting Germany to support the proposed new focus, noting that the country already does so through mandatory Holocaust education in German schools. “There’s every reason to think that they would be supportive of this,” Eizenstat said. “After all the survivors are gone this is the right thing to do.” Though survivors are dying, their overall need for aid actually is rising because of their growing infirmity and relative poverty. The Claims Conference estimates that survivor needs will peak in about two or three years, followed by a progressive decline. Globally there are an estimated 500,000 living Nazi victims — a category that includes not just survivors of concentration camps, ghettos and slave labor camps but also those forced to flee the Nazi onslaught, compelled to go into hiding or who endured certain others forms of persecution. About half are expected to die in the next seven or eight years, according to a new demographic assessment that was part of the special panel’s work, and survivors of some kind or another are expected to be around for another 20- 25 years.
  • 13. 13 The debate about what to do about the Claims Conference once the last of the survivors dies is not new. Established in 1951 to secure compensation and restitution from Germany, the Claims Conference has negotiated successfully for an estimated $70 billion for survivors and survivor needs over the course of its existence. Most of that money has come directly from Germany in the form of pensions and compensation payments, with the Claims Conference acting only as the processor of payments and verifier of claims. As each survivor dies, these payments cease. The Claims Conference also has a bucket of discretionary funding: billions generated from the sale of heirless Jewish property from the former East Germany. But that bucket, known as the Successor Organization, is expected to run dry by 2020 at its current annual allocation rate of about $118 million to groups that aid survivors and $18 million to Holocaust education and remembrance. In 2004, the Claims Conference managed to get Germany to begin to fund a new area: home care for survivors, including food, transportation and medical care. Berlin has steadily increased the amount of money it provides the program, from $42 million in 2009 to $190 million in 2013. Last year Germany agreed to another $800 million in funding through 2017. If the Claims Conference board adopts the new plan next month, the question for Claims Conference negotiators is whether they’ll be able to get Germany to move into another new area — one that, unlike aid to aging survivors, has no particular expiration date. “I believe the good will is there,” said Julius Berman, the Claims Conference’s chairman. “Their issue is more in terms of budget rather than concept. If we do a correct job to explain the need, I think we’ll have a receptive audience on the other side.” The mandate for reexamining the Claims Conference’s future and governance grew out of a public storm a year ago over the discovery that the organization had conducted two investigations in 2001 into questionable conduct that failed to uncover a massive fraud scheme being perpetrated by a senior Claims Conference official. The fraud continued unabated until Claims Conference leaders discovered it in late 2009. In all, 31 people pleaded guilty or were found guilty in connection with the scheme, which resulted in $57 million in illegitimate payouts by Germany. I purposely left out a few sentences about the Claims Conference scandal mentioned in the paragraph above because I wanted to focus on what the Conference might be doing in the years to come. I’m certainly not trying to hide anything. In fact if you are interested in the scandal you can Google “Claims Conference Scandal” and you’ll get the whole story. As far as I’m concerned the more important factor for both Germany and the Jews is what the Claims Conference plans for itself in the years to come. Since 1951 it has played an important role for both parties. Will it continue? Will it dramatically change or will it “cease and desist”? Those are important questions for all concerned.
  • 14. 14 ********************************************************************************************* See you again in July. DuBow Digest is written and published by Eugene DuBow who can be reached at dubowdigest@optonline.net Both the American and Germany editions are posted at www.dubowdigest.typepad.com