UJC hires private detectives to plug leaks on Arafat

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BOSTON — The United Jewish Communities has confirmed that it has hired a New York detective agency to investigate how the planned Isaiah Award ceremony for Yasser Arafat was made public by the Jewish Advocate.

As first reported in last month's Advocate, the UJC planned to honor Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat last month with its prestigious Isaiah Award for peace. The UJC, which raises $790 million a year, is the umbrella organization for America's Jewish federations

The ceremony was set for Oct. 13 in Ramallah before more than 120 members of UJC's Prime Minister's Mission.

When contacted by the Advocate on Oct. 5, two days before the mission left, UJC officials first confirmed and then denied that Arafat would be the recipient.

The Forward, a New York-based Jewish weekly, then reported on Nov. 5 that the UJC had hired Kroll Associates pro bono to look into the Arafat affair.

UJC President Stephen D. Solender confirmed the Forward's report that Kroll is looking into "where our system broke down." The UJC also confirmed that Lynn Corda Kroll, wife of Kroll Associates founder Jules Kroll, is on the board of UJA-Federation New York.

But before Solender made his comments, Gail Hyman, UJC's vice president of marketing and public affairs, said the investigation was not pro bono.

In an interview with an Israeli online news service, Independent Media Review & Analysis, Hyman said that the detective agency had been hired "for minimal money" and that "the investigation is funded from a special fund — not contributors' dollars."

Despite numerous phone calls to her office from the Advocate, Hyman could not be reached. Also, Stuart Ross, a spokesman for Kroll Associates, did not return calls to the Advocate.

UJC spokesman Norman Eisenberg did confirm that Kroll Associates had been hired but refused to comment "until the investigation is finished." At this point, according to Eisenberg, no UJC employee had been fired over the Arafat affair.

In Detroit, Joel Tauber, chairman of the UJC executive committee, said the goal of the investigation was to "take corrective action to make it a more efficient organization."

When asked if he supported the decision to retain Kroll Associates, he said, "It's not horrible and it's not great. I'm just holding Steve [Solender] responsible for running an effective organization."

At least one federation leader isn't unhappy with the decision.

Barry Shrage, president of the Boston-based Combined Jewish Philanthropies, was critical of the investigation.

"I can't imagine why the UJC would hire a private detective," he said. "I would say that it's not a good idea to do that kind of thing. And, if in fact it's true, it's frankly time to learn from past mistakes and move on and just try to make things better in the future.

"I think everybody understands that mistakes were made. All of us make mistakes and all of us have to try and do our work better and that's what they need to do. I don't think it makes much sense to spend any time looking for leaks. I don't think that necessarily helps things much."