Journalists Apologize for Portraying Claims Conference as Corrupt Cheats

Orly Vilnai and Guy Meroz issue apology to Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany for any harm that their film might have done to the organization.

The two journalists behind a 2008 documentary that portrayed the Claims Conference as a corrupt organization issued an apology yesterday and committed to paying NIS 150,000 to a Holocaust nonprofit, ending a libel suit that had been filed against them.

Orly Vilnai and Guy Meroz issued the apology to the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany for any harm that their film, "Moral Reparations - The Struggle Continues," might have done to the organization.

Orly Vilnai and Guy Meroz - Tomer Appelbaum - March 2012
Tomer Appelbaum

The documentary was aired on Channel 2 on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2008. The film was a damning indictment against the Claims Conference, which was painted as a corrupt organization that exploits Holocaust survivors and cheats them out of their money. The film was produced by Shamayim Productions, which also signed the apology.

Following the broadcast, the Claims Conference filed an NIS 4 million libel suit against Vilnai (who also writes for Haaretz) and Meroz in Jerusalem District Court, claiming, "The film is a cruel, distorted, despicable and contemptible libel, which aimed to advance the personal interests of the accused through an unprecedented destructive campaign."

Judge Noam Sohlberg, now a Supreme Court Justice, ordered the parties to settle out of court.

Now that a settlement has been signed, the journalists wrote, "We apologize that in the framework of our struggle to redress a historic and human injustice, the Claims Conference was harmed by the fact that we did not bring the full picture, and did not reflect all the details as they should have been presented. This was not the intended outcome.

"We believe that the Claims Conference has made a definitive and unprecedented contribution toward helping Holocaust survivors," the document continued. "In the wake of the film and the feverish arguments in the media and the legal proceedings between the parties, accusations were made - some of them personal - against the Claims Conference and against its officials, and we are sorry about this."

The NIS 150,000 will go to Amcha, a local nonprofit that works with Holocaust survivors.

The apology does not explain the big gap between the allegations raised in the film and the apology and monetary compensation the journalists are paying now.

This is touched upon only in a vague manner: "We believe that the frustrating gap between wanting to help Holocaust survivors, which is common to the entire Jewish people, and the Holocaust survivors' real condition, requires criticism - which may be pointed - of those who set policy in this area, as well as of those who implement it, since we are talking about holy work," the document stated. "We cannot give up on our loyalty and obligation to making such criticism. Nor can we abandon the truth."