World Jewish Congress rekindles Transamerica boycott

After being frozen for three weeks, the boycott against Transamerica is thawing out.

Promised that Aegon NV would join a Holocaust-era insurance claims commission by the end of February, the World Jewish Congress had paused its offensive against the Dutch company's U.S. affiliate at Phase 1.

However, the promise has turned out to be an empty one.

As of Wednesday, Aegon still hadn't joined the international commission — so the plan is to take the boycott into Phase 2, said Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress.

"We're simply where we were before," an exasperated Steinberg said Monday by phone from New York. "It's not just tedious — I think they're being disingenuous. All we keep hearing from them is that they're willing to join, they're willing to join. But nothing ever happens."

Aegon, the seventh-largest insurer in the world in terms of assets, purchased Transamerica for $9.7 billion in July. It announced last week it is planning to divest the portions of Tthe S.F.-based company not related to life insurance. Analysts say the sale could net $2.5 billion.

Phase 2 of the boycott will include sending out 500,000 letters to Jewish constituents, leaders and activists who are not already on the World Jewish Congress' mailing list of about 200,000.

"We will ask for support of the boycott," which asks that people not buy new Transamerica policies, Steinberg said. "We will also seek funds in order to put advertisements in newspapers."

If Aegon still hasn't joined the International Commission on Holocaust-Era Insurance Claims by late next month, Steinberg said an advertising campaign against Transamerica will begin, with ads in the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times in May.

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

If, at any point, Aegon joins the commission, the boycott will be called off. But Neal Sher, the commission's chief of staff, said Tuesday that nothing appears to be imminent.

"They [Aegon] haven't said anything," he said by phone from Washington. "Our people have been in touch with them, but the bottom line is they haven't joined."

A spokesperson for Aegon USA failed to return phone messages this week.

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.