European spat over oligarch role

By Jenni Frazer, October 29, 2010

Three leading members of the European Council of Jewish Communities board resigned this week at the organisation’s Presidents’ Conference in Berlin, in protest at the nomination of Ukrainian oligarch, Igor Kolomoisky, as incoming leader of the ECJC.

Jaws dropped in the plenary session of the conference when the British-based president for the last six years, Jonathan Joseph, announced that the ECJC “had the opportunity to elect as our new president a person from the east — a man with the financial resources” to make the organisation viable once more.

He said that Mr Kolomoisky, who also holds Israeli citizenship, had pledged to invest “millions of euros to strengthen Jewish life in Europe.”

But Ben Blog, from the Netherlands, who has been on the ECJC board since 2008, and Italian delegates Claudia De Benedetti and Arturo Tedeschi, complained bitterly that there had been no prior consultation with the board.

Mr Tedeschi, who was on the board for almost 10 years, issued a furious statement charging that the nomination of Mr Kolomoisky was “both non-democratic and illegal. Furthermore, a deep change in the strategy of the organisation was announced without any advice from the board, which was intentionally excluded from any information and any decision”.

The two Italians were representatives of UCEI, the Unione delle Comunità Ebraiche Italiane, the umbrella body of the Italian Jewish community. They said that the UCEI had also withdrawn from the ECJC.

Mr Tedeschi added: “ECJC worked for several decades as a non-political organisation, facilitating co-operation between Jews throughout Europe in education, welfare, youth development and social life. Now it turns out to be also a political organisation, a new vocation which has nothing to do with the 30 year old story of ECJC”.

A defensive Mr Joseph said that if not consulting the board was “a crime, then I am guilty.” But he made it clear that the ECJC desperately needed financial help to survive. He is a member of the board of World Jewish Relief, which, together with Norwood and Jewish Care, form the constituent bodies of ECJC in the UK.

But there were no representatives of Norwood or Jewish Care at the Berlin conference, which Mr Joseph admitted was “disappointing.”

Last updated: 11:50am, October 29 2010