AN AMERICAN JEWISH – GERMAN INFORMATION & OPINION
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.
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
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
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!
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
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.
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.
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
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
“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.
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-
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
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-
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-
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,
his mandate expired five years ago, and officials say he did not want to be remembered
as the man who left a divided Palestine.
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.
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.
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
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
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.”
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
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
It also occurs to me that the Catholics aren’t mentioned as supporters. I can’t believe
that they’re not important.
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
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
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
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
“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
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
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
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.
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
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
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-
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
“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
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.
See you again in July.
DuBow Digest is written and published by Eugene DuBow who can be reached at
Both the American and Germany editions are posted at www.dubowdigest.typepad.com