SINGER, ISRAEL (1942– ), chairman of the *World Jewish Congress and of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (the Claims Conference). Raised in Brooklyn, Singer was the child of refugees from Vienna who sought refuge in Switzerland, Germany, and France, eventually landing in a detention camp in France. They came to the United States in 1942. His father had a doctorate in economics and went into the costume jewelry business. His background was a mixture of right-wing religious views and Zionism. He went to Brooklyn College despite the fact that this was not permitted in the yeshivah in which he studied. He attended college at night, in a clandestine manner, where those few people who were also earning their rabbinical ordination were not deprecated. Jewish education and secular education were separate domains of learning and were considered in conflict with one another. He was ordained a rabbi in 1964 at Yeshiva Torah vo'Daath, and taught political science and Middle Eastern Studies at the City University of New York and, from 1969 to 1971, political theory in the department of politics at Bar-Ilan University in Israel. He made two brief departures from the academic world, to serve in the office of the mayor of New York during the Lindsay Administration and, later, to assist President Ford's administration during his reelection campaign.
Singer became an adjunct professor of political science at Brooklyn College in the late 1960s, where he led a sit-in to show Jewish students how to get the Judaic Studies department they wanted. He was a catalyst for one of the most active Jewish student bodies in America, and largely because of his actions, Brooklyn College eventually developed an excellent Judaic Studies Department that, among other things, pioneered Holocaust Studies.
Singer met Nahum *Goldmann, then the president of the World Jewish Congress, in Israel in 1969, when Goldmann was trying to make contact with the Russians in order to promote peace after the 1967 war. Singer, who was an activist on behalf of Soviet Jewry, introduced him to Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin. Singer became a wjc expert on East-West relations. He became their operative, then their major activist. That was about the time that Edgar *Bronfman arrived, at the behest of his father Samuel, who wanted him to get involved.
Together Bronfman and Singer took an organization with an impressive title but not much of a constituency and transformed it into an effective arm of the Jewish community, raising its profile and leading many causes, including pressing the Kurt *Waldheim Affair to make the Austrians come to terms with his record as a German solider during World War ii and the Swiss Banking issue, forcing the Swiss to confront their record of expropriation of survivors' bank accounts and their refusal to turn these account over to rightful heirs. In each of these cases, critics accused them of provoking antisemitism, but despite the accusations they persevered and were ultimately vindicated. Singer conducted the negotiations with the German government regarding the settlement of outstanding claims. His conduct was described even by critics as brilliant and indefatigable. As a result, after the death of Israel Miller, he also became chairman of the *Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany. Critics of their work at the wjc accuse Bronfman and Singer of being too dovish and too critical of the Israeli government.
As chairman of the World Jewish Restitution Organization, Singer carried out negotiations to benefit Holocaust survivors and heirs of Holocaust victims around the world.
In early 2006, pursuant to an agreement between the World Jewish Congress and the attorney general of the State of New York, Singer, while not charged with any criminal violation, was removed from all fiduciary responsibility for the World Jewish Congress and was named to head a policy advisory group.
[Jeanette Friedman and
Michael Berenbaum (2nd ed.)]