WJC pushes pause button on Transamerica boycott

The boycott against Transamerica is on hold.

The World Jewish Congress said last week it is freezing its recently launched offensive against Aegon NV because the Dutch company has promised to join a panel looking into Holocaust-era insurance claims.

Aegon, Transamerica's parent company, has resisted joining the international commission since last summer, insisting that its part in a $21 million unpaid-claims settlement in Holland be taken into account.

As of Wednesday, Aegon still hadn't joined the International Commission on Holocaust-Era Insurance Claims, but the two sides were reportedly closer than ever before.

"They have apparently worked out at least the first-stage framework that would lead to the integration of the Dutch settlement," said Dan Edwards, California's deputy insurance commissioner, who is very close to the issue.

Edwards was in Holland earlier this week to go through the files of three Dutch insurance companies, including Aegon, which is cooperating with California's own push to resolve unpaid claims.

By joining the international commission as well, Aegon would subject itself to independent audits to find out whether it failed to honor Holocaust-era policies it sold in Europe.

Aegon is the seventh-largest insurer in the world in terms of assets. It does two-thirds of its business in the United States, much of it via S.F.-based Transamerica, which it purchased for a tad under $10 billion last July.

In mid-January, the WJC launched a boycott against Transamerica in an attempt to pressure Aegon into joining the commission. It began by asking its 200,000 members not to purchase any new Transamerica policies.

Elan Steinberg, the WJC's executive director, said on Tuesday he was told by Lawrence Eagleburger, the former U.S. secretary of state who chairs that international panel, that Aegon would join by the end of February.

However, Pat Baird, Aegon USA's chief operating officer, told Reuters last week, "There is no commitment, no timetable laid out, no commitment that Aegon will join. We continue to make progress."

If Aegon doesn't join, Steinberg said the second phase of the boycott will be launched in early March. It will include a stronger media campaign and sending out 1 million letters to individuals.

"The issue is not too complicated," Steinberg said. "Either Aegon joins or they don't. Aegon will not be asked to pay twice, and they will not have a special category of membership. They must sign the memorandum of understanding — that's it."

Andy Altman-Ohr

Andy Altman-Ohr was J.’s managing editor and Hardly Strictly Bagels columnist until he retired in 2016 to travel and live abroad. He and his wife have a home base in Mexico, where he continues his dalliance with Jewish journalism.