Prominent figures involved with Holocaust restitution warn that heirs of Jews who were murdered in the Shoah will be "without representation" at next month's Prague Holocaust Era Assets Conference.
These people, including former MK Michael Kleiner, complain that the nomination of Reuven Merhav, of the Conference of Jewish Material Claims against Germany, to represent Israel constitutes a "conflict of interest" and will mean heirs will remain "voiceless."
"As a representative of the Claims Conference, there has to be a conflict of interest in Merhav's nomination to represent Israel in Prague," said Martin Stern, who initiated the compensation process for Holocaust-era insurances in 1996.
The Claims Conference is an organization representing world Jewry in compensation talks with Germany, and the world's richest restitution body. "This organization is withholding inheritance money from heirs of people who were murdered in the Holocaust, spending money on other Jewish causes instead," Kleiner told Haaretz.
Merhav denies the claim, telling Haaretz that his nomination is strictly professional and that he is committed to helping heirs reclaim property. "What belongs to the heirs needs to go to the heirs. The remaining money needs to go to people in need and to Jewish causes," he said.
Uriel Palti, the Foreign Ministry's coordinator for the Prague Holocaust Era Assets Conference, said the ministry's legal department had concluded that Merhav's nomination does not constitute a conflict of interests.
The Prague Conference, scheduled for June 26, will be attended by representatives of some 50 countries and will assess the progress made since the 1998 Washington Conference on Holocaust Era Assets in recovering looted art and other objects of value.
Last month, the Movement for Quality Government in Israel complained to the Foreign Ministry that Merhav's nomination constituted a conflict of interests and demanded that he be replaced.
"The Claims Conference has been rebuked for its handling of money intended for Holocaust survivors and it seems as though its positions on the restitution of Jewish property do not necessarily match Israel's approach," the letter of complaint said.