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Austrian Jewish Group Bans Billionaire Lauder in Election Spat

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Ronald S. Lauder, the president of the World Jewish Congress and a former US ambassador was recently “banned” from the property of the IKG, Austria’s official Jewish organization, over complaints that he meddled with its internal elections. According to a Reuters report, on Thursday, December 6th a spokesman for Lauder denied the veracity of the allegations and claimed they were “a distortion of the truth.” In a letter sent to Jewish leaders in Europe dated December 3rd, IKG President Oskar Deutsch accused Lauder of offering incentives to IKG board members to support rival candidate Martin Engelberg as president of the organization. Deutsch, who was the incumbent, prevailed over his opponent; however Lauder and Engelberg strongly deny any charges of influence peddling.

“It was Ambassador Lauder’s counsel that the Jewish community of Vienna decide their own path and vote according to their individual conscience and their own best interest,” said Gary Lewi, a Lauder spokesman. He added that, “To suggest otherwise is a deliberate and cynical distortion of the truth.”

The decision to castigate Lauder and ban him from their property is considered to be a highly unusual move by the IKG, as Lauder is major benefactor of Jewish communities around the world and a magnanimous contributor to a vast array of Jewish and Israeli causes. He is also the heir to cosmetic mogul, Estee Lauder.

Engelberg said the claims against him and Lauder were “emotional and beyond reason”. He added that, “My party contacted Ron Lauder to see if he would support our projects, like youth centers, since they were aligned with his previous and evident philanthropic interests. A major issue for my campaign was to support the community development and Jewish life instead of creating archives and investing in real estate as is currently done.”

For the most part, Vienna’s Jewish community was annihilated during the Nazi Holocaust and now has only 8,000 members. Engelberg said most young Jews now living in Austria were immigrants from the former Soviet Union and said that they needed more help from the Jewish community.

In an interview with Reuters, Deutsch said, “It is unacceptable for Ron Lauder, someone who is outside of our community, to try to interfere with or buy our elections. This goes against the rules of his position as president the World Jewish Congress and is wrong.”  The European Jewish Congress (EJC), a regional arm of the world body, said it would set up a panel of “eminent personalities” to investigate the alleged interference. Serge Cwajgenbaum, secretary general of the EJC, said, “According to our constitution and by-laws in no way should the president interfere in the internal affairs of the domestic communities. A member community has turned to us and we take this very seriously,”

Saying that the ban against Lauder does not include Viennese synagogues, Deutsch did say that it covers other IKG property such as schools and nursing homes.

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