Court at Central Council Reprimands Jewish Congregation

Gideon Joffe heads the Jewish Congregation of Berlin Foto: picture alliance/dpa

The court at the Central Council of Jews in Germany has imposed a penalty payment of 10,000 Euro on the Jewish Congregation of in Berlin and issued a reprimand. Further sanctions could follow, according to the Berlin attorney Nathan Gelbart.

On Sunday, an election for the congregation’s representative assembly was carried out contrary to an order issued by the responsible court at the Central Council. By following its new, highly controversial election regulations, the congregation ignored the court decision.

Not Compatible In July, the court had determined that the election regulations of the Berlin congregation, which were only adopted in May, were not compatible with constitutional principles, for several reasons.

The court had ordered the Jewish Congregation of Berlin either to postpone the election until the announcement of the court’s decision, or to hold it on the basis of the old election regulations that had been passed in 2011.

After Sunday’s election, the Central Council said it did not recognize it. Former community chairlady Lala Süsskind announced she would contest the election in a court of law. She will be represented by Nathan Gelbart.

Constituent meeting Meanwhile, despite a possible legal dispute and contrary to the court’s ruling, the Jewish Congregation of Berlin is planning to hold the constituent meeting of its new representative assembly towards the end of September. At that meeting, Gideon Joffe is likely to be re-elected chairman.

The 51-year-old, who has served in this position since 2012, received the largest number of votes in the election, 911 in total. All 17 elected candidates belong to his alliance »KOACH!«.

The community leadership under Joffe had held the election in spite of massive protests. They were triggered by complaints against the new election regulations, which among other things stipulate an age limit for candidates. According to those rules, candidates cannot be older than 70 if they have not previously been a member of a committee.

Fundamental violations Furthermore, candidates may not belong to other Jewish organizations such as the Central Council of Jews or the Maccabi sports club. In addition, members can cast their votes by mail only. Gideon Joffe and the rest of the congregation leadership are therefore accused of fundamental violations of democratic principles. The election was boycotted by the opposition within the Jewish Congregation of Berlin.

For now, the composition of the new municipal parliament was reduced from 21 to 17 members in the new election regulations. Voter turnout was 18 percent, according to the congregation’s press office. Only 1288 of a total of 7233 eligible voters took part in the postal ballot, a statement read.

On Monday, Joffe said in an interview with »Jewish Berlin«, a paper published by his own congregation: »We don’t abide by the Central Council.« But the decisions of the arbitration court of the Jewish Congregation of Berlin were binding for him, he said. This »prohibits us from following a provisional decision by the Central Council court, which has no jurisdiction.« The ruling of its own arbitration court, on the other hand, was final.

Election rerun Furthermore, Joffe emphasized: »I guarantee that Tikkun [an oppositional coalition in the congregation] and the Central Council certainly do not want a rerun of the elections. This is just another dubious riot demand.« Tikkun and the Central Council were bluffing if they called for an election rerun now, Joffe stated.

Meanwhile, the court at the Central Council is keeping its options open, including sanctions against the municipality. For instance, the court could recommend to the Central Council’s presidium that it suspend the Jewish Congregation of Berlin’s membership in the organization’s committees for a period of up to two years.

Nathan Gelbart believes the Berlin Senate is obligated to speak out about the accusations against the congregation, because it supports it with almost 15 million Euro per year. So far, however, Berlin’s state government was shrugging off the issue. »Thus, the senate leaves nearly 8000 discriminated Jewish citizens of Berlin in the desert«, Gelbart stated.

Speaking to this publication, the Jüdische Allgemeine, Germany’s largest Jewish news source, he expressed hope that the dispute would be heard by a secular court. »Only a court that has real means of enforcement can bring about a decision that is also enforceable,« the lawyer said.

In response to an inquiry from the Jüdische Allgemeine, the Jewish Congregation of Berlin stated: »The court of the Central Council has created an unlawful situation.« In its reply, the congregation’s board confirmed it had recieved the arbitration court decision. »It can be clearly read that the Central Council court fundamentally violates basic legal principles«, it commented. »The board regrets that the acceptance of the Central Council court among other Jewish congregations in the Federal Republic is being massively damaged by such erroneous judgments.«

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