Israeli Journalists Apologize to Claims Conference Over Controversial Film

Orly Vilnai, Guy Meroz and Shamayim Productions Ltd. apologize for the damage caused to the Jewish organization responsible for negotiating with Germany on restitution for Holocaust survivors, by their film, 'Moral Reparations – The Struggle Continues'.

An Israeli couple, both renowned journalists, issued an apology Monday, over a film they directed, to the Jewish organization responsible for negotiating with Germany on restitution for Holocaust survivors.

The film, "Moral Reparations – The Struggle Continues", charges that The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany - better known as the Claims Conference – has "more than $1 billion" in its accounts and is withholding it from needy survivors.

Orly Vilnai and Guy Meroz
Emil Salman

After the film was aired in 2008, the Claims Conference filed a NIS 4 million libel suit against the journalists, stating that "the film is a cruel and distorted calumny," is "replete with false factual allegations," and that "the spirit of the film is sometimes anti-Semitic." The timing of the television broadcast in Israel - on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2008 - "turned the Claims Conference into the enemy of the Jewish people." The libel suit was filed on September 4, 2008.

Three years later, the sides reached an agreement whereby the journalists, Orly Vilnai and Guy Meroz, together with the production company Shamayim Productions Ltd., issued an official apology and committed to paying NIS 150,000 to the Claims Conference, which will be allocated to the aide of Holocaust survivors via the association "Amcha."

"We regret that, in the course of our struggle to correct what we saw as an historical and human injustice, the Claims Conference was wronged due to the fact that we failed to present the whole picture and to accurately reflect all the details as they should have been presented. It was not our intention to cause this outcome", wrote Vilnai, Meroz and Shamayim Productions in their apology.

Media advisor, Moti Sherf, welcomed the agreement between the two sides, saying they made the right decision to put the saga behind them. As for the film, Sharf said he believes the Claims Council will continue to work to have it removed from the Internet.

In the letter, the journalists acknowledged the achievements of the Claims Conference, and apologized for the impressions left "in the hearts and minds of those who saw the film".

"For 60 years, the Claims Conference has acted tirelessly on behalf of the Jewish people in order to assist Holocaust survivors and to engage in education, commemoration and documentation of the Holocaust", the couple wrote in the letter. "We believe that the Claims Conference has made a crucial and unprecedented contribution to assisting Holocaust survivors by representing the Jewish people in contacts with the Government of Germany and other bodies."

However, they noted that criticism is not entirely undue. "We also believe that the frustrating gap between the desire to help Holocaust survivors, which is shared by the entire Jewish people, and the actual condition of Holocaust survivors requires criticism – on occasion harsh if deserved, directed at those who set policy in this area, as well as of those who implement it, since this is a sacred task", they wrote. "We cannot abandon our loyalty and commitment to such criticism. Neither can we abandon the truth."

They added that, following the film, and in the heated media debate and legal proceedings between the parties, accusations were leveled against the Claims Council. "This was not our intention, and we regret this", wrote the couple in the letter, adding, "Our intention was and is to assist Holocaust survivors and to advance their well-being, so that in their twilight years they may enjoy the best and most appropriate living conditions possible. We feel proud and happy to have the opportunity to act to promote this objective."

"We are confident that we will all continue to act, and even intensify our efforts, for the sake of this objective, which is, in our opinion, as important as any facing the Jewish people."

Read this article in Hebrew.