European Jews new chief ends strife with World Jewish Congress

In the campaign platform Hajdenberg set out in Brussels before the vote, he pledged "to give more responsibility to the Jewish communities of Europe for restitution issues and on how to divide various European funds" — a function that until now has largely been handled by the WJC and the World Jewish Restitution Organization.

As president of CRIF, France's umbrella group for Jewish organizations, Hajdenberg has frequently been at odds with WJC officials over restitution issues.

During the past year, a French government-appointed commission has been probing the extent of Holocaust-era looting of Jewish assets with an eye to restitution.

Hajdenberg has emphasized the importance of French institutions acknowledging moral responsibility, rather than financial compensation, for Jews who suffered persecution under the nation's World War II pro-Nazi Vichy government.

The WJC has focused on the monetary component, arguing that those responsible for the wartime theft of Jewish assets should repay what was stolen.

As a result of their differences, Hajdenberg's determination to keep the question of monetary reparations out of negotiations with the French government, banks and insurance companies led to often acrimonious exchanges with WJC officials over who should handle restitution issues for Holocaust victims in France.

In New York, WJC's executive director, Elan Steinberg, said the acrimony was now a thing of the past.

"I look forward to working with my good friend Henri," Steinberg said.

Hajdenberg wrote a letter to the WJC just prior to his election expressing confidence that "we will work in the future in close cooperation." In a phone interview after his election, he said, "There is no more conflict."

Running unopposed Sunday, the 52-year-old Hajdenberg replaces German Jewish leader Ignatz Bubis, who died in August.

As part of his election platform, Hajdenberg also promised to create a pan-European Holocaust educational program, encourage the continuing renaissance of Eastern European Jewry, and create closer ties between European Jews and the peoples of the Middle East and North Africa.