U.S. Billionaire Ron Lauder Declared 'Persona Non Grata' in Austria's Jewish Community

The president of the Jewish community in Austria alleges in a letter that was distributed in dozens of copies that Jewish-American billionaire Ronald Lauder offered money to community executive board members to support a candidate he was promoting in the elections that took place last month. Lauder calls allegations despicable and baseless.

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
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Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

The Jewish community of Vienna has declared Jewish-American billionaire Ronald Lauder persona non grata because, it alleges, he flagrantly interfered in the elections for the community's president that took place last month.

The Jewish community's president, Oskar Deutsch, sent a letter this week to leaders of Europe's Jewish communities in which he claimed that Lauder offered money to members of the Vienna community's executive board to influence them to vote for a candidate that Lauder supported. Lauder aggressively denied the allegations and stated that they were false and despicable.

Lauder, who is a major shareholder in Israel's Channel 10 among other business interests, formerly served as United States ambassador to Austria. Today, he serves as the president of the World Jewish Congress, an international organization that is the representative body of Jewish communities and organizations around the world.

The Austrian Jewish community claims in the letter that was distributed that Lauder supported a candidate by the name of Martin Engelberg and tried to promote his election. The candidate that was eventually elected, Oskar Deutsch, alleges in that letter that Engelberg and Lauder offered "more than 4.5 million euros" to "groups within the Jewish community" in return for their support of Engelberg's candidacy. Dozens of copies of the letter containing these allegations were distributed by Deutsch, one of which came into Haaretz's possession.

As a result of these allegations, the Jewish community in Vienna has declared Lauder persona non grata "from all premises belonging to the Jewish community in Austria."

Gary Lewi, Lauder's spokesperson, provided his response to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, which also published a story about the letter. "For some 25 years, Ambassador Lauder has demonstrated through word and deed his support for the Viennese Jewish community," Lewi told JTA. "It was Ambassador Lauder's intent that the Jewish community of Vienna decides their own path and vote according to individual conscience and their own best interest. In repudiating these unfounded and irresponsible allegations in the strongest terms possible, he continues to stand with this proud and dynamic community today and far into the future. However, let there be no mistake: These allegations are despicable and without any basis in truth."

The World Jewish Congress' office in New York did not respond to Haaretz's request for comment.

Ron LauderCredit: Ofer Vaknin

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