New people for new times

The Jewish world is going through a difficult time. An atmosphere of disaffection and animosity is condensing around the majority of diaspora communities. The governments of diaspora countries are not capable of ensuring a safe life for Jews. This has additionally and acutely intensified Aliyah to Israel in practically all of the largest Jewish communities from France to Brazil. Small communities (for example, in the previously tolerant Sweden) are basically on the verge of disappearance. Purim, an ordinarily cheerful holiday, in 2016 took place in a hitherto unseen atmosphere of fear for world Jewry. Against the backdrop of traditionally highly anti-Semitic attitudes in Europe, the horrifying terrorist attacks in Brussels compelled Jews to shelter themselves ever more securely within the walls of Jewish community centers and synagogues. Brussels had already experienced a terrorist attack in a Jewish museum. This time it was mere happenstance that saved Jews from suffering many casualties at the airport: check-in for the El Al flight had yet to begin, and the terrorists exploded their bombs by an American Airlines counter.

At this time of new challenges, as it was in the time of Haman’s anti-Jewish conspiracy, the prevention of which has been celebrated at Purim for many centuries, world Jewry needs resolute and purposeful leaders capable of responding creatively to new challenges and dangers. This means people of action who do not deceive themselves and community members, do not speak senseless, sedative words, and do not become embroiled in minor internal intrigues and conflicts.

One of the most prominent personalities in the World Jewish Congress today is the WJC’s Executive Vice-President Robert Singer, referred to as “a rising star of the Jewish World.”

In a strange but simultaneously natural fashion, his career combines bright and dark aspects. The former is public, deftly covered by mass media in exhaustive detail. The story is that Robert Singer has honestly completed all career phases, acquired the necessary temper and experience and proved his tenacity and pragmatism. Having come to Israel from Ukraine as a child without knowing the language and customs of his new homeland, Singer successfully graduated from an Israeli school at the age of 15. He graduated from the university at the age of 21. He then quickly rose in his career in the Israeli army. By the age of 32, he had reached the rank of lieutenant colonel and chief of the army education department in Israel’s Southern District. He then transferred to Israel’s Liaison Bureau, Nativ, the government body for contacts with Jews of the USSR and Eastern Europe, where he created an effective operations and outreach system which greatly facilitated Israel’s acquisition of a million new citizens from that region. Then he worked for many apparently rather productive years in the office of the Prime Minister of Israel and the leadership of the international Jewish organization World ORT. Finally, he ascended to the summit of his career – he transferred to the senior leadership of the WJC where, for all practical purposes, he has been responsible for developing strategy and dealing with the daily tasks of the WJC, including collaboration with regional organizations.

Public Jewish organizations are generally very scrupulous when it comes to finances, and on this sensitive issue they turn towards Israel, which is known for its implacable and principled struggle against corruption. But the WJC has its own rules for Robert Singer. It is surprising that Robert Singer is the only person in the leadership of international Jewish NGOs who stubbornly refuses to disclose his income. Another painful and sensitive issue is fund raising, which Robert Singer is responsible for at WJC. To this day, the question of funds raised by the WJC to be spent on European projects is a topic of sharp debate behind the scenes. Some European Jewish organisations claim that they stop receiving funding from the WJC.

Who is involved in sowing the seeds of the discord, and who benefits from it, other than the enemies of Jewry and Israel? It is unlikely that anyone could give plain and complete answers to these questions.

The emerging situation, where in a number of Western European countries, Jews had previously been recommended not to wear kippot in public, let alone more noticeable attributes of their clothing and external appearance indicating their belonging to the Jewish faith makes it obvious how important it is to have authoritative leaders in the major international Jewish organizations, and most of all in the World Jewish Congress, the chief representative body of world Jewry.

Equally obvious is that in the new, complex conditions, the WJC needs a firm leader capable of operating in a hostile environment, an energetic organizer and outreach spokesperson like Robert Singer is. But the aspect is less clear, featuring as innuendoes, rumors and speculations in the very same mass media. They form a shadow cast by the bright public façade of Singer’s activities on his personal affairs. For example, it is widely discussed that Singer himself was behind the push to extend the powers of the current president, R. Lauder, for a third term in violation of the WJC rules, and that he has also been involved in provoking the conflict between the most influential Jewish leaders, a conflict that is extremely dangerous for world Jewry. Mr. Singer was also allegedly involved in financial scandals between the World ORT and its Israeli chapter, as well as inclandestinely exacerbating disagreements within the current leadership of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress. These allegations overshadow his petty dealings covered by mass media, such as placing his daughter in a relatively high post with Israel’s state water company without any competition or approval from the trade unions.

zinger lauder photo

Clearly Mr. Singer has proved that he is a very effective manager able to strive in difficult situations. Regardless of how we choose to interpret his tactics many are starting to think that he is the future force behind the WJC. A real leader able to manage financial and most difficult aspects of a Jewish NGO.

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