Scrutiny of Claims Conference grows

By Anshel Pfeffer, June 19, 2008

The Claims Conference is facing a deeper scrutiny of its affairs, both from the Israeli Comptroller and the German Auditor’s Office.

The German investigation into the Conference’s accounts is the result of rising criticism of the lack of transparency of the body which transfers pensions to Holocaust survivors from the Berlin government.

In Jerusalem, meanwhile, two separate Knesset committees held special sessions on the Claims Conference this week. In the Comptroller Committee, Pensioners Affairs Minister Rafi Eitan severely criticised the Conference for its lack of cooperation with the government.

Survivors protest against inadequate funding in Jerusalem last year

He said: “From what I’ve seen, there is no corruption in the Conference.

“But the problem is that they give money to 800 different organisations, and a small group there decides on its own who gets the money, and then they bring all the allocations for authorisation in a larger committee in two short meetings, where the other members serve as rubber-stamps.”

Mr Eitan said that the Conference refused the government’s demands to conduct a survey of the remaining Holocaust survivors and their whereabouts, and would not discuss the organisation’s long-term plans for when the survivors had all passed away.

The Conference has offices around the world but it is registered in the United States and therefore not answerable to the Israeli government. Committee Chairman MK Zevulun Orlev announced that, in spite of that, he was referring the issue to the State Comptroller who will investigate all the Conference’s dealings with the Israeli government.

At another session at the Knesset Immigration and Absorption Committee, the chairman, MK Michael Nudelman, attacked the Conference for turning down the applications of 11,000 Holocaust survivors for pensions because they applied at the wrong date.

Mr Nudelman claimed that the survivors had misunderstood the entire process because the Conference had failed to publish application forms in Russian. Meanwhile, in Germany, the Federal Auditor’s Office was also looking into a complaint by the Israeli Movement for Quality of Government which asked the office to investigate allegations of conflict of interest of members of the Conference’s board and irregularities in the allocations process.

The Movement also asked the office to order the Conference to publish a full list of the thousands of formerly Jewish-owned properties that the Conference had sold in Germany.

The Auditor’s Office is still deliberating on whether to launch a formal inquiry into the matter.

Last updated: 3:54pm, June 23 2008