Kol HaKavod to the Forward for Nailing the WJC
Can I just kvell for a minute over how much I love the Forward?
Greatest. Jewish. Newspaper. Ever.
This weekend’s issue is devoted almost entirely to the scandal over at the WJC, with Nathanial Popper delivering hard-hitting investigative journalism into the endless corruption that — despite even recent public scrutiny — continues unabated.
While the upcoming elections for the leadership of the World Jewish Congress came about after the organization was criticized for lacking transparency, a number of newly released documents suggest that the elections are being shaped by a series of secretive backroom deals.
The most surprising result of the recent jockeying came May 30 when the front-runner, cosmetics heir Ronald Lauder, announced that he was forming a joint ticket with Matthew Bronfman, son of the current president, Edgar Bronfman. The partnership was a shock, in part because the elder Bronfman had earlier, in The New York Times, called Lauder unfit for the job while Lauder levied a similar charge against the younger Bronfman in the New York Post earlier this year.
Popper identifies the involvement of ousted WJC official Isi Leibler in coordinating with Lauder to subvert the liberal Bronfman’s leadership in order to install a right-winger at the helm of the WJC’s leadership. He also reveals the involvement of Stephen Herbits, Bronfman’s right-hand man at the WJC, who has been working to hammer out the details of the Lauder-Bronfman ticket.
In the process of his investigation, Popper also discovered another particularly interesting bit of news: Malcolm Hoenlein, head of the Conference of Presidents, received a $50,000 payoff from Ronald Lauder under dubious circumstances.
JJ Goldberg has apparently had enough. An op-ed in the very same issue reads:
Insiders have been complaining for years, often in fearful whispers, about the steadily rising importance of wealth as the chief criterion of leadership in the Jewish community in the past generation. Money speaks, and all others cower. Organizations pack their boards with wealthy donors to fund their growing bureaucracies, and then trim their agendas carefully to avoid losing the donations. The wealthiest, impatient with anything resembling process, create their own organizations to pursue their personal visions, such as they are, without the annoyance of hearing differing opinions. Rabbis and scholars hire themselves out as courtiers to the mega-donors, hoping they will spend their money wisely before they get bored and walk away.
We have not begun to calculate the corrosive effect of all these dollars — on the personal lives of the scholars who serve at the barons’ pleasure and whim; on the tawdry politics and public life of the Jewish community in this country and in Israel; on the public image of the Jewish people in the eyes of an ever more skeptical world.
We think nobody notices, but they do. Worse, most of us have stopped bothering to think about it at all, and no wonder. The mud-wrestling of the mega-donors at the World Jewish Congress is a tragedy for the Jewish people, but it is also a warning sign. All the recruitment strategies and leadership training institutes in the world cannot replace integrity and vision as the raw stuff of a people’s future.
But the Forward doesn’t stop at criticizing, as so many often do. They also pose an alternative, inviting Einat Wilf, a young Israeli politician (affiliated with Labor) currently running for the WJC presidency, to contribute an op-ed calling for the very same reforms I myself have demanded in recent posts here on Jewschool.
The Jewish world, at least in its official presentation, is governed by structures that were a product of the 20th century. These structures were remarkably effective in serving the Jewish people throughout that century — especially in its second half — rebuilding a thriving Jewish life and establishing a national center in the State of Israel.
But these structures are beginning to crack under the pressure, drifting away from the people and especially the new generation they are intended to serve. The World Jewish Congress is in danger of descending into irrelevance in a storm of bitter infighting and accusations.
There is, however, a new generation of younger Jewish activists that is prepared to do what it takes to transform it into the most relevant and innovative Jewish institution.
[…] When the president of the WJC meets with world leaders, he or she claims to speak on behalf of the Jewish people. The continued ability of future presidents to do this rests on the WJC doing more to truly represent the Jewish people as a whole. To thrive in the future, the WJC should give more substance to the “W” and the “C” of its name: It must become more “World” and more “Congress.”
I’ve asked Wilf, who’ll be in the US this week, to engage in a dialogue with our readers here on Jewschool. I’ll keep you posted as to whether or not it pans out…