The Jewish Week has a bizarre and possibly defamatory editorial on the troubles besetting the World Jewish Congress. It is co-authored and co-signed by the Jewish Week's editor and publisher, Gary Rosenblatt, and by Larry Cohler-Esses, the author of last week's hit piece on former WJC Secretary General Israel Singer.
Cohler-Esses has a a very real conflict of interest. That conflict is not mentioned in last week's article or in this signed editorial. Gary Rosenblatt knows about this conflict of interest. That alone should be enough to question Rosenblatt's honesty.
(I must also point out my conflict of interest. For several years, I was on the executive of the North American Jewish Students Network, then the North American arm of the World Union of Jewish Students. Our North American headquarters was in the World Jewish Congress. I spent most of my time out of NYC, but I did spend time in that office. I knew Singer and his staff. One of Singer's children was active for a brief time in Network, and I met her on two or three occasions. I had no friendship with Singer, his daughter or other WJC staffers, but I knew them and worked in close proximity to them.)
The editorial states the following, immediately after asking if the WJC "can, and or should be, saved":
For almost three years, the WJC has been clouded by accusations of financial improprieties, lack of governance and non-transparency. A number of these claims were borne out by a report last year by then-Attorney General of New York State Eliot Spitzer, which found a litany of “failures in the proper administration of charitable assets.”
The editorial then goes on to talk about infighting in the WJC leadership.
What it does not do is clarify or put in context the the Attorney General's eight word partial quote, culled from a thirty-four page report. That report (Download wjc_aod_01312006.pdf ) makes clear that there was no criminal wrongdoing, that money was not stolen, that Singer is not a criminal. The report points out flaws in WJC governance – flaws that Singer took responsibility for, even though Singer was never the WJC's money man.
Similarly, it reports new charges against Singer this way:
[WJC Secretary General Stephen Herbits' newly-issued] report contained some new information regarding alleged financial misdeeds by Singer, and it sought to place the onus on him for any false information provided by the WJC to the attorney general’s investigation, noting that those findings were inaccurate “because Singer concealed, covered up or lied.”…
The editorial then goes on for eight more paragraphs of allegations against Singer before allowing Singer, through a representative, to rebut the charges. The space alloted to that rebuttal? Two very brief quotes:
Hank Sheinkopf, a spokesman for Singer, dismissed the latest charges as “nothing new,” but rather “a rehash of largely resolved issues that were fully investigated by then-Attorney General Spitzer, known for his thoroughness.”
He added that the latest dossier was “filled with untruths and may in fact be defamatory.”
If this is all Singer's people told the Jewish Week, which I doubt, the rebuttal should have been pulled up in the piece to give it equal weight to the allegations. Remember, those allegations are unsupported and come from an enemy of Singer, an enemy with no real record of Jewish communal service and a long, documented record through many venues of combative, rude and thuggish behavior. That record of brutish behavior should itself have been noted in the editorial. It was not, just as it was absent from last week's hit piece.
No matter what you believe about the WJC or Israel Singer, you should be troubled by Gary Rosenblatt's behavior. Rosenblatt appears to be on a personal vendetta against Singer and, more importantly here, against those who support him.
This editorial can be viewed as a shot over the bow of Ronald Lauder and Pierre Besnainou, the head of the European Jewish Congress. Both men are possible successors to Edgar Bronfman. Both may tap Singer for transitional leadership.
Rosenblatt appears out to prevent Singer's resurgence by smearing Singer with a brush wide enough to dirty Lauder and Besnainou.
Rosenblatt admits he ignored credible information showing his friend Rabbi Mark (Mordechai) Gafni abused women and teenaged girls. He made that admission after others outed Gafni and the details of Rosenblatt's coverup were circulating in the JBlogging community. Similarly, Rosenblatt has ignored or glanced over other uncomfortable issues. Understand this: He knew of allegations of serious sexual abuse. He closed his eyes and ears. The abuser went on to abuse other women during this time.
Why does this matter, you may ask? This is not a story about sexual abuse. Further, Rosenblatt did expose serial abuser Rabbi Baruch Lanner.
It matters because it shows that Rosenblatt has skewed coverage to protect his friends. Presumably, he would do the same to hurt his enemies and their friends.
To remove this cloud of suspicion, Rosenblatt needs to explain the omissions noted above. He also needs transparency. Rosenblatt runs what is essentially a nonprofit organization. He should open that organization to the widest possible scrutiny. How much does Rosenblatt make per year, including perks and expenses? Where do the Jewish Week's streams of revenue come from? Does he bite the hand that feeds him or does he paper over funders' misdeeds? Are there conflicts between Rosenblatt's funders and the WJC or Singer?
We deserve answers to these questions.
Israel Singer is a flawed man. He brought in billions of dollars for Holocaust survivors and did much other good. At he same time, he was and may still remain a brash, overly forceful personality hyper-focused on the big picture. In the words of the Forward:
…Singer had been running the organization the way Nahum Goldmann had taught him, the way that Levi Eshkol, Pinhas Sapir and David Ben-Gurion had been managing the Jewish people’s affairs for a century: Get the job done, then write something down.…
These flaws are significant but they do not rise to the level of scoundrel or crook. Rosenblatt blurs the distinction between Singer's failings and crime, just as Rosenblatt blurs the line between reporting and advocacy. And that should trouble us all.
For a clearer understanding of what the WJC is, how it is structured and the context for Israel Singer's actions, read the entire editorial in the this week's Forward.