Former Claims Conference Executive to Assume Top Job at the Organization

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File photo: Holocaust survivor Bracha Ghilai, 75, shows her tattooed arm at her house in Holon , Israel, January 23, 2005.
File photo: Holocaust survivor Bracha Ghilai, 75, shows her tattooed arm at her house in Holon , Israel, January 23, 2005. Credit: ARIEL SCHALIT / AP

Barring any last-minute surprises, Gideon Taylor, a former top executive at the Conference of Jewish Material Claims against Germany, will be appointed president of the organization next Tuesday. He will succeed Julius Berman, the longtime leader of the Claims Conference, as it is also known, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars a year in restitution payments to Holocaust survivors around the world.

Taylor, 55, is thus far the only candidate to be nominated for the top job at the organization, and his appointment is expected to be announced at the annual board meeting of the Claims Conference next Tuesday, June 30.

A massive embezzlement scheme ran undetected at the Claims Conference during Taylor’s tenure as executive vice president between 2000 and 2009. Taylor was never accused of any wrongdoing and has never spoken publicly of the scandal.

A lengthy investigation revealed that least $57 million in funds designated for Holocaust survivors were stolen from the Claims Conference by a group of employees who had encouraged thousands of Russian-speakers across North America to file false claims. The management of the Claims Conference alerted the FBI after it discovered the fraud in 2009. The conspiracy had continued undetected for more than 15 years.

Born in Dublin, Taylor has held several senior positions in Jewish world organizations. Before joining the Claims Conference, he served as assistant executive vice president of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), in which capacity he was responsible for property restitution in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. After leaving the Claims Conference, he returned to the JDC, where he served as chief operating officer between 2009 and 2012. Since then, he has worked in the private sector as executive vice president of Earle W. Kazis Associates, a family-run commercial real estate firm based in New York.

Since 2013, he has also served on a voluntary basis as chair of operations of the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO), which represents world Jewry in pursuing claims for the recovery of Jewish properties seized during the Holocaust in Eastern Europe. He studied law at Trinity College in Dublin and received his master’s in law from Oxford University.

The nominating committee is headed by Marlene Post, a member of the board and former president of Hadassah, the Jewish women’s organization.

Colette Avital, the former Israeli diplomat who serves as secretary of the Claims Conference, described Taylor as “extremely energetic and creative.”

“My experience with him has been only positive,” she told Haaretz. “It’s a good thing he’s taking over this organization.” Avital currently heads the Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel.

Menachem Rosensaft, who serves on the board of the Claims Conference and is the general counsel of the World Jewish Congress, said he also believed Taylor was the right person for the job. He said he did not think his presence at the organization during the embezzlement scandal should rule him out as a candidate to lead the organization now.

“I believe that the determination was made, and certainly has been made in my mind, that this is not a factor and just because he was there at the time does not mean that he should be disqualified from being there at this time, any more than any of the other people that were there at the time should,” he said. “There was a thorough FBI investigation, there was an internal investigation, and I think we have basically all concluded that there is nothing there that in any way disqualifies Gideon from the position.”

He said that Taylor was “totally devoted and dedicated to the cause of helping survivors and has the unique skill set to take over leadership at what is a critical time because of COVID-19, which will make it far more difficult to obtain additional funds from the German government.”

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