Will Fiasco in Austria Jeorpardize Ronald Lauder’s Victory in WJC?

Although the elections for World Jewish Congress are a few more weeks away, the tensions around it keep on growing. The billionaire Ronald Lauder who currently heads the WJC, expects to be re-elected for his third consequent term, but the big question is whether he will be able to gain the necessary support among WJC electors. Lauder was born in New York in 1944; he is heir of Estee Lauder Cosmetics Empire, a businessman and a philanthropist.

Forbes lists Lauder among the richest people in the world with a net worth of $3.3 billion.

400 WJC Delegates To Meet In New York

ronald lauder
Ronald S. Lauder in 2009

Within the next few weeks, some 400 delegates from Jewish communities around the world will gather in New York to choose the next WJC president. Since Lauder is now ending his second term, he can only be re-elected again if 2/3 of the delegates show support for his candidature.

The World Jewish Congress was established in Geneva, Switzerland in August, 1936, in reaction to the rise of Nazism and the growing wave of European anti-Semitism. Since its foundation, it has been a permanent body with offices around the world. Among its main aims along with fighting for equal political and economic rights everywhere and support of the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine was also a creation of a worldwide Jewish representative body based on the concept of the unity of the Jewish people, democratically organized and able to act on matters of common concern.

Ron Lauder was elected as president of WJC in 2007, during its first ever contested elections. He was running then on a joint ticket with Matthew Bronfman and the two of them got 59 votes, while South African steel magnate Mendel Kaplan gained only 17. This time, however, the victory might not be a done deal for Ron Lauder.

The Austrian fiasco

The scandal in Vienna became international knowledge following a story published in the American New York Post in mid- December 2012. The paper quoted Oskar Deutsch, the president of Vienna Jewish community saying that Lauder tried to buy the election for the community presidency, by meddling with its internal affairs. Deutsch also declared the billionaire persona non grata at the community’s institutions.

According to the New York Post, Lauder deposited “more than $700,000 into a lawyer’s account to help sway three factions to support his candidate, psychoanalyst Martin Engelberg and promised even more money to his supporters.” Lauder later denied the allegations and WJC press office released a statement saying that these statements were “outrageous and baseless.” Only 7 weeks later, the split was resolved during a 40 minute reconciliation talk between Deutsch and Lauder in Vienna. However, many members of the local community believe that this affair might affect the future vote for WJC presidency. Last December WJC Vice-president Flo Kaufmann formally asked Ron Lauder to stand aside in the wake of accusations that he attempted to influence the course of elections in Austria.

The Russian move

Around the same time the Vienna scandal blew up, Lauder traveled to Russia, where he unexpectedly became a member of the Russian Jewish Congress board of governors. His press bureau published that upon his nomination, Lauder contributed to the Congress some $500,000. His next move will probably be assembling all his Russian-based charity and education projects within the frame of RJC. Lauder, one of the most well-known Jewish philanthropists, had donated millions of US$ for various projects in Russia but never before attempted to enter the intricate world of Russian-Jewish politics. A few insiders in Moscow suggest that the billionaire, not sure of his chances to be re-elected again is trying to increase the base of support with the Russian votes. The fiasco in Austria, although formally settled later on, may jeopardize his victory and the Russian support just may be right on time.

It remains to be seen whether Ronald Lauder will be able to gain massive support among WJC delegates, considering his latest European scandal and negative PR in Russia.