The New York Times obituary for billionaire Edgar Bronfman, neglected to mention the presence of the colorful and commanding, Dr. Israel Singer, in Bronfman’s life. Singer, an Orthodox Jew with a black hat and a doctorate and relatively left-wing views on Israel, was the long-time secretary-general of the World Jewish Congress. Bronfman said he loved Singer like a son and Singer referred to himself as the self-styled “foreign minister” of the Jewish people, until their infamous bust up in 2007 over Bronfman’s allegations (never proven) that Singer embezzled WJC funds.
By his own words, reportedly, Bronfman cried endlessly before firing Singer. But it was correctly demanded by various functionaries at the time that Jewish non-profits be absolutely financially transparent. At the time, Eliot Spitzer got involved but soon he had bigger problems. Bronfman retired from the Congress, Singer vanished and another Jewish billionaire, Ron Lauder, took over the reins of the WJC. The 2007 dispute between Bronfman and Singer was shocking but largely seen to be inner Jewish macher-dom politics. No wonder the Times side-stepped it.
Though Singer was not known to have been Bronfman’s business consultant, it was “Sruli” who taught Edgar everything there was to know about Jews, Yiddishkeit and so forth. Stuart Eisenstadt, then United States President Bill Clinton’s special envoy on Holocaust matters, wrote admiringly about their brash and successful teamwork vis a vis the Swiss bankers in his book, Imperfect Justice (Public Affairs, 2004). Similarly, Bronfman and Singer knew how to use their one-two punch in other situations and with other world leaders including (back in the eighties) the infamous, Erich Honecker, former communist East German president.
There is no doubt that Bronfman’s fame, wealth and (later) FOB status in the White House helped open doors and catapulted him, Singer and the WJC to international headlines, but there is also no doubt that it was Singer who whispered to Bronfman about the Jewish agenda throughout. Don’t get me wrong. I was a critic of the Conference on Material Claims Against Germany Inc. (Claims Conference) when Singer was president in 2002 and laced into Singer plenty. How effective or what kind of decisions he made there are unknown to me. He often told me personally that he agreed with my point of view regarding paying heirs and their descendants first (from Jewish-owned, and Nazi confiscated property in former East Germany), before parsing the money to public Jewish organizations and groups that claimed they needed money. At least that’s what he said.
Singer could be arrogant; but Bronfman, as many know, could be even more so. Mercurial and volatile, he was unlike his brother Charles, who was a relatively mild-mannered and calm man. The violent dumping of Singer over allegations which were never proven did not seem entirely fair or legally sound. There was talk at the time that Singer had no pension and this, in theory, was his motivation for allegedly sticking his hand in the cookie jar. Bronfman, z”l, should have done a more thorough check of WJC finances and policies. Maybe he did; maybe he didn’t; maybe he didn’t get sound advice.
Either way this unsavory affair abruptly ended the Bronfman-Singer bond, once thought to be unbreakable and important. Fact is, Singer deserved a pension but was not a poor man by any means, a son-in-law of a wealthy industrialist, Julius Kuhl. Kuhl lost his youngest child in a terrible car accident in the 1970’s.
I hope Singer and Bronfman quietly patched things up before the latter’s death because they genuinely liked each other and did valuable work together. Singer, who I don’t think – but am not certain – ever “talked” must have had a lot to say about his three decades as WJC secretary-general and his spectacular fall from Bronfman’s graces. He does not deserve to be written out of an amazing period in Jewish history which spanned aiding Soviet Jewry and awakening the sleeping giant called Holocaust restitution.