After the punch-up, the putsch: Berliners move to expel their leaders

By Toby Axelrod, January 16, 2014
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Scene of the fight: Berlin’s Neue Synagogue

Scene of the fight: Berlin’s Neue Synagogue

After months of verbal and physical confrontations among its members, Berlin’s Jewish community has broken new ground: it has become the first in post-war Germany to demand the removal of its council and early elections.

Internal strife and financial pressure has allegedly been exacerbated by the controversial community president, 41-year-old Gideon Joffe, and the community appears to many to be on the verge of collapse. But contrary to some reports, the warring sides do not break down along ethnic lines.

Opposition leaders — including members of the established, post-war community and members of the Russian-speaking community — hope to save the day by electing a brand new president.

They recently handed Mr Joffe a petition with 1,904 signatures demanding an early election. The board has 60 days to check that at least 20 per cent of eligible voting members have signed.

The community’s financial crisis is due in part to mismanagement during the 1990s, when generous pensions were offered to new immigrants. Last May, Mr Joffe’s faction proposed taking out a mortgage against an unnamed community property in order to pay communal bills. Opponents claim that the proposal was adopted without adequate transparency.

Outraged representatives nearly came to blows. The police were called and accusations were filed. It is understood that a board member’s mobile phone was seized and an attempt allegedly made to erase photos and videos of the mêlée.

Mr Joffe was recently placed 60th on a list of “100 most embarrassing Berliners” published at the end of last year by local events magazine Tip. It said: “The devastating impression of the deeply divided Jewish community of Berlin can be blamed on its president — at least that’s what Mr Joffe’s opponents claim.”

Last updated: 3:14pm, January 16 2014