Writ threats

The Jewish Chronicle - - News - BY AN­SHEL PF­EF­FER

THE AIR­ING of an in­ves­tiga­tive TV doc­u­men­tary in Is­rael which fiercely crit­i­cises the Claims Con­fer­ence over its pol­icy to­wards Holo­caust sur­vivors has caused the nor­mally con­ser­va­tive or­gan­i­sa­tion to re­act with un­ac­cus­tomed vigour. How­ever, threats of le­gal ac­tion have failed to pre­vent the pro­gramme’s trans­mis­sion.

Moral Repa­ra­tions 2, broad­cast on the eve of Holo­caust Re­mem­brance Day, is the sec­ond film by the two self-styled docu-ac­tivists, Orly Vil­nai-Feder­bush and Guy Meroz, on the plight of Holo­caust sur­vivors in Is­rael.

Their first film, last year, at­tacked suc­ces­sive Is­raeli gov­ern­ments for with­hold­ing from the sur­vivors part of the money re­ceived from Ger­many in the Repa­ra­tions Agree­ment of 1952, and not do­ing enough to take care of their wel­fare.

The new film con­cen­trates on the Claims Con­fer­ence, the New York-based or­gan­i­sa­tion set up to al­lo­cate pen­sions and ben­e­fits re­ceived from the Ger­man and Aus­trian gov­ern­ments to the sur­vivors. The Con­fer­ence was ac­cused in the film of main­tain­ing lav­ish of­fices, pay­ing large salaries to its ex­ec­u­tives and with­hold­ing part of the money it re­ceived from the Ger­mans in­stead of al­lo­cat­ing it to sur­vivors. The JC too has pre­vi­ously in­ves­ti­gated such al­le­ga­tions. Mr Meroz and Ms Vil­nai-Feder­bush also list var­i­ous Jewish or­gan­i­sa­tions that re­ceive funds from the Con­fer­ence de­spite the fact, ac­cord­ing to their claims, that th­ese or­gan­i­sa­tions do not con­trib­ute to the sur­vivors’ wel­fare.

In ad­di­tion, they claim that some of th­ese or­gan­i­sa­tions are tied to Con­fer­ence board mem­bers.

They also at­tack the Con­fer­ence for de­duct­ing hefty fees from heirs of prop­er­ties in for­mer East Ger­many. In the most con­tro­ver­sial scene of the film, Mr Meroz is seen ac­cost­ing the Ger­man Fi­nance Min­is­ter visit­ing Is­rael, ask­ing: “Do you know that not all the money you give the Claims Con­fer­ence reaches the sur­vivors?”

The Con­fer­ence has re­but­ted all th­ese ac­cu­sa­tions, most of which have ap­peared in the me­dia in the past, claim­ing that it runs an ef­fi­cient or­gan­i­sa­tion, al­lo­cates funds ac­cord­ing to trans­par­ent cri­te­ria and that all the money in its bank ac­counts is ear­marked for sur­vivors’ ben­e­fits over the next decade.

Ac­cord­ing to the Con­fer­ence, it has en­abled heirs of East Ger­man prop­erty to press their claims past the fi­nal dead­line in Ger­man law and has picked up the le­gal fees.

No stranger to con­tro­versy over re­cent years, the Con­fer­ence usu­ally an­swers its crit­ics in more sub­tle ways. This time, though, a se­nior of­fi­cial at the Con­fer­ence told the JC: “It could be re­ally dam­ag­ing, th­ese peo­ple have lost all sense of pro­por­tion.” In a 23page in­ter­nal doc­u­ment, pre­pared for the Con­fer­ence board mem­bers and seen by the JC, the man­age­ment at­tacks the film­mak­ers for pro­duc­ing “a to­tally one-sided sen­sa­tion­al­ist litany of at­tacks and crit­i­cism… fu­elled by a small band of dis­grun­tled par­ties who are mo­ti­vated by self-in­ter­ests” and em­bark­ing on “a pat­tern of de­cep­tion and ac­cu­sa­tion”.

Un­til now, the Con­fer­ence has been care­ful not to take its crit­ics to court, but this week, its lawyers threat­ened the Shamayim Pro­duc­tion com­pany be­hind the film with a law­suit un­less ex­ten­sive changes were made to the film. Shamayim’s lawyers re­sponded by agree­ing to make only very mi­nor changes and to al­low a re­sponse from the Con­fer­ence — which had pre­vi­ously cut all ties with the pro­duc­ers — to be shown at the end, but the film would be aired as sched­uled.

In the en­su­ing me­dia mêlée, the Con­fer­ence en­listed the sup­port of high-tech en­tre­pre­neur Noam Lanir, an orig­i­nal backer of the film, who de­manded the pro­duc­ers re­turn the $50,000 [£25,000] he gave them, claim­ing its treat­ment of the is­sue was “provoca­tive” and “bru­tal” and en­dan­gered the aid to sur­vivors.

The film­mak­ers re­sponded with their own me­dia cam­paign, darkly hint­ing at pres­sures on them to can­cel the broad­cast. Ms Vil­nai-Feder­bush went as far as to say on Is­rael Ra­dio on Wed­nes­day morn­ing that Mr Lanir had been of­fered an hon­orary po­si­tion on the Con­fer­ence’s board. Mr Lanir re­sponded with a threat to sue her for NIS 2 mil­lion.

Michal Hochberg, a se­nior pro­ducer at Shamayim Pro­duc­tions told the JC, that “de­spite the pres­sure, we never con­sid­ered can­celling the broad­cast and we made only a few changes, most of them even be­fore the threats ar­rived”.

PHOTO: AP

Sur­vivor Julius Braun sits next to the Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter’s of­fice at a demon­stra­tion over ben­e­fits last year

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