WJC Removing Two Senior Officials in Organizational Clash

NEW YORK - The World Jewish Congress is planning to remove two senior officials from key posts as part of an initiative spearheaded by WJC President Edgar Bronfman to rehabilitate the veteran organization's standing.

Reliable sources in New York said Wednesday that the officials in question are Elan Steinberg, a senior Bronfman adviser at the WJC's New York office, and Isi Leibler, a vice president of the organization who resides in Israel. Steinberg will be fired and Leibler will be reassigned.

The sources said that several WJC leaders and central representatives in Europe, South America, and Israel were behind the drive to remove these officials.

"Bronfman's recovery plan aroused a wave of favorable responses and expressions of support among the organization's heads and major players," a senior Jewish activist in New York said Wednesday.

For that reason, the source said, activists are urging Bronfman to get rid of people within the WJC who have recently displayed behavior harmful to the standing of the WJC.

Haaretz has learned that directors and activists of the WJC in Europe and Israel held a series of emergency consultations Wednesday to discuss various proposals regarding the removal of the two officials. Several participants proposed firing both men immediately, whereas others called for waiting until the steering committee set up by Bronfman meets in special session, scheduled for September 20 in New York.

The clash among officials in the WJC leadership is drawing particular attention from Jewish organizations in New York. A senior official at one major organization described the conflict as "a battle of principle over the soul of an organization, the purpose of which is to prevent the organization from falling captive into the hands of radicals."

According to the source, "a right-wing minority, which officials in Israel also disapprove of, are trying to take over an organization with a long history of respectability."

In a classified internal memo on the recovery plan distributed last week to WJC officials, Bronfman emphasized that "no effort will be too difficult and no price too high" in the struggle against divisive forces in the organization.

Refraining from identifying those forces by name, Bronfman went on to state, "the action of these elements detached from reality hits at the heart of community life, and sabotages the commitment each of us has toward the other with regard to fulfilling our sacred mission."

By contrast, an official letter sent last week by a New York law firm to the WJC's general counsel, Stanley Chesley, identified Steinberg and Leibler specifically. The letter notes that Bronfman "has undertaken a process to modernize the constitution and governance of the World Jewish Congress," and points to Steinberg and Leibler as having "attempted to undermine his efforts by making unfounded accusations of irregularities which reflect upon the integrity of senior World Jewish Congress officials."

The letter, dated September 3 and signed by attorney Franklyn Snitow, accuses Steinberg and Leibler of "distributing documents which have been previously repudiated by their authors and/or distributing narratives which they are aware contain false or misleading information."