In 1952 the Prime Minster of Israel, David ben Gurion made one of the gutsiest and hardest political decisions ever to have been made, he accepted restitution funds from West Germany –a country that had just murdered six million Jews. Many objected including future Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Ben Gurion held firm and saw the money as a means towards the end of an eternal antidote to another Holocaust: a powerful state of Israel.
Though the Holocaust took place over 60 years ago, we are only beginning to experience the complications surrounding the disbursement of Holocaust restitution funds. The last survivor will probably pass away in the next 20 years but they will leave behind billions in unclaimed monies that have been placed under thejurisdiction of the Claims Conference.
In recent years, the Conference has come under intense scrutiny. Some of it has come from Israeli quarters wanting a greater say in where the money is distributed. Others have argued that more of the money should be going to survivors residing in the former Soviet Union. However, the accusation most often thrown at the leaders of the Conference is the amount of money spent on administrative overhead, specifically the salaries of some of its top officials. The Jewish Chronicle recently revealed that the Conference’s highest-paid official, executive vice-president Gideon Taylor, was awarded $437,811 in salary and pension (2004 numbers).
The problem with those who complain about generous non-for-profit executive salaries is that they are not only fantastically delusional, but are actually asking to create a system of compensation that only awaits a fiscal meltdown. Why on earth we as a community would not want the most qualified and best trained business and economic minds to run a fund worth billions upon billions of dollars, is beyond me. I know it sounds nice to have someone working out of their own heart, but I would prefer someone who has a good mind and the right skill set to handle managing such a large sum of money. Why would we ever risk putting such an important task in the hands of people who are doing us a “favor?”
That said, it is still laughable to compare the average salary of a top corporate executive to what someone such as Taylor is making. There is no doubt that $400,000 is a lot of money, but if it wasn’t why would anyone take the job seriously? I am sure we could find some individual willing to take it on as their personal tzedakah (charity) to the memory of the survivors, but to be honest I am more concerned with making sure their legacy is kept in the most safe and secure hands out there.
Read the Full Debate: Is the Search for Restitution OK?