Shangri-La lawyers ready for another day in court

Four years after a group of Jewish partygoers accused a hotel owner of anti-Semitic discrimination — and two years after a jury found in favor of the group — the case is about to return to court. 

Did Hotel Shangri-La owner Tehmina Adaya, on July 11, 2010, instruct her staff to “systematically — and successfully — shut down” a party organized by a group of young supporters of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF), despite the event’s having been prearranged to take place on the hotel’s pool deck? Or was she simply enforcing the hotel’s “policies and procedures … that members of the FIDF violated”?

The poolside, where the party took place.

Were the hotel staff’s actions that day — removing the banners, tables and towels that had been arranged for the partygoers’ use and instructing the FIDF supporters to stop collecting donations, to remove their commemorative T-shirts and to stay out of the pool — intended to cause “severe emotional distress” to the partygoers? Or was Adaya acting within her rights in shutting down a party that had been organized by a promoter and authorized by an onsite vendor — but apparently had never been approved by the hotel’s staff?

And did she actually say — as one former employee testified — “I don’t want any f—ing Jews in the pool,” or didn’t she?

These questions were at the heart of the 2012 case, the outcome of which was a jury ordering Adaya and the Santa Monica boutique hotel owned by her family to pay approximately $3.7 million to the plaintiffs and their lawyers— the only court-confirmed case in recent memory of discrimination against Jews in the United States.

But this fall, likely in September or October, when oral arguments take place in the California Courts of Appeal, those same questions are not expected to be the focus of the arguments presented by Adaya’s new legal team, from the highly esteemed firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. 

“The court’s limited in an appeal as to what they can actually review,” said Jason C. Dineros, an attorney at Gilbert, Kelly, Crowley & Jennett, and an adjunct faculty member to the Collins College of Hospitality Management at Cal Poly Pomona in hospitality law and labor law in the hospitality industry. “The court can’t review the facts again. If the jury determined — as a matter of fact — that the racial slurs or racial remarks were directed at the plaintiffs, the appellate court cannot overrule that.” 

Based on the verdict, it would seem that the jury did not believe Adaya when, testifying at trial, she denied having made the remarks. Instead, it appears the jury relied upon the testimony of the one person who claimed to have heard Adaya’s comment directly — despite his not having appeared in court in 2012. That lone witness, Nathan Codrey, was a food and beverage manager at the hotel that day, and was fired shortly after the incident, in 2010. Codrey’s earlier sworn deposition was read into the record for the jury. (See sidebar) 

Rather than rehash the ground covered in the first trial, Marcellus McRae and his colleagues from Gibson Dunn — the fourth set of lawyers to represent Adaya and the hotel since the plaintiffs filed their complaint in 2010 — are challenging what they call errors in law made by the court and internal inconsistencies in the jury’s verdict. Among the key assertions made by the appellants: 

Nobody other than Codrey claimed to have heard Adaya herself make the “f—ing Jews” remark; therefore, it is impossible for Adaya and the hotel to have intentionally inflicted emotional distress upon the plaintiffs with her words. 

Moreover, by allowing other witnesses to testify to having heard Adaya’s words relayed to them by Codrey — or by a person who had heard the secondhand report from Codrey — the trial court “manifestly abused its discretion” by “allowing into evidence double and triple hearsay statements.” 

Adaya and the Shangri-La cannot be held accountable under the Unruh Civil Rights Act for their actions because they acted in the service of legitimate business purpose, and nothing that the plaintiffs presented to the trial court demonstrated that they acted with discriminatory intent.

The jury found that Adaya and the hotel inflicted emotional distress on the plaintiffs both intentionally and negligently, through the same set of actions — which is legally impossible. 

Dineros said this last argument is particularly interesting. 

“What the appellants creatively did was look at the inconsistency of the verdicts,” he said, “and the fact that the jury found both an intentional and a negligent element appears contradictory in itself.”

Despite numerous inquiries, the lawyers from Gibson Dunn declined to respond to questions for this article. In a statement sent to the Journal, McRae said that Adaya and Indus Investments, the parent company that owns the Shangri-La, are appealing the judgments and awards of the trial court based on “an array of legal and evidentiary challenges” set out in the brief. 

Jim Turken and his colleagues from Dickstein Shapiro, the law firm that has represented the plaintiffs — who are now called respondents — since the start of this case, rejected the appellants’ arguments. In their response brief, they write that almost every issue raised by the appellants — from their questions about what Adaya did or did not say to arguments about whether the hotel actually had policies and practices and whether it enforced them in a nondiscriminatory fashion in July 2010 — are “questions of fact for the jury,” and should not be subjected again to a court’s scrutiny. 

“As the evidence established, and the jury found, there were no such policies and practices,” the lawyers wrote in their brief filed in March 2014, “and, in any event, the purported policies were never enforced until after Adaya found out there were Jews attending a Jewish event.”

It’s hard to overstate just how atypical the path through the legal system has been for this controversial and closely watched case. For one, most cases like this never make it to trial, let alone get heard by a jury. And according to attorneys, pretrial settlements are particularly common in discrimination cases, as they typically pit cash-poor individuals against a business that would rather pay a lump sum than risk damage to its reputation. 

Yet this case, officially known as Paletz et al. v. Adaya et al., went all the way to trial, and it ended with Adaya and the Shangri-La being ordered by the jury to pay $1.6 million in damages to the plaintiffs and $2.1 million in fees to the plaintiffs’ lawyers. Now Adaya and the Shangri-La are about to go to a higher court, something that only 3 percent of the losing parties in big-ticket civil cases (involving damages of $25,000 or more) attempted during the 2011-12 year, which is the most recent one for which data is available. And they’re doing so in the hopes that theirs won’t be among the vast majority of those cases upheld on appeal. (In the 2011-12 fiscal year, the higher court upheld 87 percent of lower court rulings.) 

The length and litigious intensity of this fight has to be chalked up, at least in part, to the inherent ambiguities involved in what happened on July 11, 2010, which were subjected to significant scrutiny during the initial trial. 

It’s also worth noting that this fight almost certainly would never have gone this far without the two sides being able to marshal remarkable legal firepower. 

For Adaya and the Shangri-La, bringing in McRae, an accomplished litigator (who is Jewish and black), hints at the significant funds she and her family have at their disposal. (Adaya and the hotel reportedly used attorneys provided by the hotel’s insurer for the initial trial, a decision that Adaya came to regret. If the brief from the respondents is any indication, there are at least half a dozen different points on which the strategy pursued by the trial lawyers was defective in ways that may make their appeal more difficult.) 

And for the respondents, their ability to pursue this case (and to defend it on appeal) is entirely due to Turken’s willingness to invest more than 4,500 hours of staff time on a case and a cause in which he wholeheartedly believes. A member of Sinai Temple in Westwood, Turken is a managing partner of Dickstein Shapiro, runs the firm’s California offices and has spent more than 450 hours of his own time on this case. Had the firm lost, it would not have received compensation for that time. But for attorneys who successfully prove that their clients were discriminated against, the Unruh Civil Rights Act provides for the payment of fees. The trial court awarded Turken and his firm a whopping $2.1 million — an award that, like the award to the plaintiffs, is currently being held in escrow, pending the decision on this appeal. 

To McRae and his associates, that bill looks inflated. According to their brief, Turken and his associates ran up the tab unnecessarily by assigning multiple attorneys to conduct certain trial-related tasks. What’s more, they also structured their sizable bill in a way that made it impossible for the trial court judge to determine which tasks the defendants should be on the hook for (i.e. the ones related to the Unruh Act claims) and which they should not have to pay for (everything else). 

Consider one day in the working life of Amy Rubinfeld, a partner at Dickstein Shapiro who clocked 1,435 hours on the case, more than any other member of the legal team. According to the firm’s billing, Rubinfeld spent most of Aug. 3, 2011, working on the case — making a phone call to one of the plaintiffs, exchanging emails with others, paying “further attention” to scheduling mediation, and attending a “meeting with N. Codrey in connection with upcoming deposition[.]” Rubinfeld billed 5.10 hours that day — total cost $3,111.00. Some sizable chunk of that time must have been spent with Codrey, as Turken also billed for that time — itemizing it as 2.50 hours to “meet with Nathan Codrey and A. Rubinfeld in downtown Los Angeles concerning his deposition.” 

If the judge’s award of fees to Dickstein Shapiro is allowed to stand, that meeting — a lengthy lunch that took place at The Palm restaurant — will cost Adaya and the hotel $3,200. 

And McRae, in his appeal brief, positively bristled at his clients being forced to pay for the time Turken spent speaking about the case with reporters. In the weeks before the start of the jury trial, multiple members of Turken’s team worked with the Los Angeles Times on a story that appeared in the paper before the trial. Because Dickstein Shapiro used a “block billing” method on its invoice that only subdivides tasks on a daily basis, it’s impossible to say how much time Turken spent on July 18, 2012, on “telephone calls with the L.A. Times,” nor can it be determined from the bill how many minutes or hours Rubinfeld spent the next day sitting in on an interview with the same reporter. On July 21, Rubinfeld billed for “review[ing] e-mails with L.A. Times reporter,” and when the article came out on July 22, Fawn Schanz, an associate in the business litigation department, billed for what she described as “review L.A. Times article regarding case and forward to team.” 

“Media relations work is not ‘reasonably necessary to the conduct of the litigation,’ nor is $15,525 (at least 23 hours of fees at the average rate of $675 per hour) for non-legal work reasonable,” the appellants’ lawyers write in their appeal brief. 

But in spending his time speaking to the media, Turken appears to have been following a playbook well-known to many attorneys who bring discrimination lawsuits: Show the defendants the kind of bad press they’ll face if they lose and thereby persuade them to agree to a favorable settlement. 

For Turken, the opinions of Adaya’s attorneys about his fees are not significant. 

“Their problem is that a judge looked at everything and determined that the defendants should pay for the time,” Turken told the Journal earlier this year. 

In the lead-up to and the aftermath of the first trial, the reaction of local and national Jewish defense groups to the case has been notably muted. The groups that are most vocal on issues of anti-Semitism all but avoided involving themselves in the situation. 

When asked about their hands-off approach, leaders from the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Los Angeles chapter of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) simply said they hadn’t been asked to do anything — not by the plaintiffs, nor by anyone else. 

And ADL Regional Director Amanda Susskind said in a recent interview that once a case goes into litigation, the ADL typically leaves it to the lawyers. 

“We don’t comment on cases; we don’t get involved,” Susskind said. “But we’re interested. We’re following it.”

Even the hardline Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) — which planned a public protest outside the hotel in the wake of the verdict — quickly backed off after Adaya made donations to two pro-Israel charities and offered the group the chance to hold a party at the hotel, free of charge. At that party, a Purim-themed festival at which prominent anti-Islam activist Pamela Geller received an award, one ZOA national board member told a reporter he had come to doubt the accuracy of the jury’s verdict against the Shangri-La. 

Whether the appellate court judges share that doubt will soon become clear. During the as-yet-unscheduled oral arguments, which are expected to last between just 20 and 30 minutes, the questions the three judges ask may offer insight as to which direction they’re leaning. The final decision will be rendered within a few months of the oral arguments. 

Further, the appellate judges will have just three choices for their ruling: to uphold or strike down the lower court’s verdict (either wholly or in part), or to send the case back for a retrial. No matter which they choose, Paletz et al. v. Adaya et al. will still stand out as one of the most unusual discrimination cases brought in recent years. After all, it’s very rare to hear allegations in court of anti-Semitic discrimination against Jews in a place of public accommodation in 21st-century America. 

“I can’t even remember a case that I’ve heard of in the last decades, really,” David Bernstein, a law professor at George Mason University, said. “It’s certainly uncommon to have an actual public accommodation — not a private club or a country club or something like that — an actual hotel or restaurant that says, ‘We don’t want Jews here.’ I’m not saying it never, ever happens. It’s very, very unusual.” 

Spectator – Rock ‘n’ Roll of Ages

“Litigation is one of the sincerest forms of flattery,” said David Segal, co-founder of Shortly before the Web site — which originally used the phrase, the Jewish rock and roll hall of fame — was to go online earlier this year, Segal and partner Jeffrey Goldberg were slapped with a trademark infringement suit, by that other Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame, the one in Cleveland.

After much back and forth, a compromise was made late last month: the Jewish hall of fame turned into the Challah Fame, and the site’s address changed to the non-trademarked Jewsrock, which just opened for business. The sleekly designed site is devoted to Jews who rock, including Alecia Moore (Pink), Lou Rabinowitz (now known as Reed), not to mention more celebrated boychicks such as Neil Sedaka. There are essays about rock’s luminaries and their Jewish connections, such as an excellent meditation by Goldberg on Bob Dylan, Reed and Jewish rage. The two even hired a genealogist to try and find Semitic branches in the family of their idol, Bruce Springsteen (no luck there).

It all began in 2001, as Segal, then the Washington Post’s pop music critic, was looking for an angle that would connect popular music to the Anthrax scare in the news. Such an angle soon presented itself in an interview with Anthrax’s front man, Scott Ian; after the story ran, Segal got a call from his longtime friend, Goldberg, then The New Yorker’s Middle East correspondent, who made a guess about the rocker’s ethnicity.

The wittiness, the irony, the hypochondria — “I bet that guy is Jewish,” he said.

The two did some snooping, and discovered that Ian, né Scott Rosenberg, was very much a Jew. This prompted an idea: Why not a Web site hailing all the secretly Semitic legends of music? As they raised funds — primarily from the Natan philanthropy network — they stressed that they viewed their site as a cool conduit designed to make disinterested Jews interested again.

“We wanted to present a view of Judaism that’s not too nerdy, not too glib, not too academic,” Segal said.

And the lawsuit helped put their enterprise on the map.

“One moment we didn’t exist, and then … there were stories in 30 newspapers about us,” Segal said.

Article reprinted courtesy The New York Jewish Week.


Artful Solution to Nazi Looting

After six years of litigation and diplomatic battles over Nazi-looted art, in a legal case stretching from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., to Vienna and back, the Austrian government has agreed with Maria Altmann, an 89-year old widow, to let arbitration decide who now owns masterpieces that once belonged to her family.

At stake are six works painted by Viennese artist Gustav Klimt, valued at $150 million and considered treasures of early 20th-century art.

The most famous among them is a gold-flecked portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, a member of a prominent Viennese Jewish family and the aunt of Altmann, a Cheviot Hills resident.

In 1938, the paintings were confiscated by the Nazis and eventually ended up at the Austrian National Gallery, where they are on display.

A major break in the litigation came last June, when the U.S. Supreme Court rejected pleas by both the Austrian and American governments and ruled that Austria could be sued in a U.S. court.

The Supreme Court decision helped Austria “to finally see the light,” said E. Randol Schoenberg, Altmann’s lawyer, and encouraged the country to consent to arbitration, which Schoenberg had first proposed in 1999.

Under the agreement, announced May 18, both sides have appointed one representative, who will jointly name a third member to the arbitration panel. All three will be Austrian legal experts, who are to render a nonappealable decision by Nov. 1.

The longtime court opponents reacted to the new agreement, hammered out over the last two months, with considerable relief.

“I feel very good that the case will finally be resolved, after waiting, waiting and waiting some more,” Altmann said. “We could have had this result six years ago, when I wrote a letter to the Austrian authorities offering just such a resolution, but they never even sent a response.”

Altmann said she had complete confidence in the fairness of the Austrian arbitration panel. She indicated that if the decision goes her way, she would not insist on the physical return of all the paintings, but consider a monetary settlement.

Martin Weiss, the Austrian consul general in Los Angeles, hailed the agreement as heralding “a very good day.”

He and attorney Scott P. Cooper, representing the Austrian government, expressed satisfaction that the case will be decided in Austria and under Austrian, rather than American, law.

The arbitration panel will have to resolve two key points: The first is whether, under conflicting wills written by the Bloch-Bauers, the paintings rightly belong to Austria or to Altmann. The second is how a 1998 Austrian law on restitution of Nazi-looted art applies to this case.

The Austrian decision to submit to arbitration could have considerable impact on other countries. Many of their museums have been reluctant to settle cases of paintings in their possession that were originally taken by Nazis from their Jewish owners outright, or through forced sales.

A current case involves a painting by impressionist Camille Pissarro hanging in Madrid’s Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. The painting was sold by a German-Jewish family under Nazi pressure for a fraction of its value.

For five years, Claude Cassirer, 84, of San Diego, a descendant of the painting’s former Jewish owners, has sought the painting’s return.

Spain will host an international Conference on Anti-Semitism and Other Forms of Intolerance on June 8 in Cordoba, and advocates for Cassirer are hoping to draw wider attention to the dispute over the Pissarro painting.

“The government of Spain would be well advised to follow the Austrian model,” Schoenberg said. “The claimants are getting very old and it is unconscionable to drag out the cases any longer.”


Falsely Imprisoned Man Files Claims

It took a Long Beach Superior Court judge two minutes to free Thomas Lee Goldstein on April 2, releasing him after almost a quarter century behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit. The white-haired former Marine from Kansas mourned a lifetime of missed opportunities.

"I was 31 years old. I never got married. I never had children. I never started my career. No human being should have to suffer what I went through," Goldstein said.

Goldstein, 55, has since filed claims against the city of Long Beach and Los Angeles County for his wrongful conviction in the 1979 shotgun slaying of a Long Beach man.

He alleges in the claims that the Long Beach Police Department and the District Attorney’s Office fabricated evidence and used an unreliable jailhouse snitch to convict him in 1980. No amount was specified for possible damages.

H. Anthony Nicklin, principal deputy county counsel, said that his office has 45 days to address Goldstein’s claim, but would make no other remarks.

"We don’t comment on ongoing litigation," Nicklin told The Journal.

Goldstein was not available for comment.

Long Beach City Attorney Robert Shannon is investigating whether Goldstein can file a second claim after Goldstein failed to follow up on a $2 million claim he filed against the city while still incarcerated in 1998.

Dave McLane of Kay, McLane and Bendnarski, the Pasadena firm representing Goldstein, anticipates that both claims will eventually be rejected.

"We’d like to negotiate in good faith, but we’ve seen no willingness to do so," he said.

Jailed in such maximum-security facilities as Folsom and San Quentin, Goldstein also states that he was subjected to assault, harassment and discrimination due to his Jewish heritage.

"He had a rough go of it in prison," McLane said. "There wasn’t a group he could turn to."

After being harassed by white supremacists and gang members, Goldstein tattooed a Star of David on his left forearm, took off his shirt one day and walked around the prison yard.

"That was his way of saying ‘Don’t mess with me,’" McLane said.

Back in November 1979, Goldstein was an honorably discharged Vietnam vet studying mechanical engineering at Long Beach City College.

"He had trouble adjusting to life after the war," said McLane, adding that Goldstein "had a drinking problem, but he has overcome that."

Goldstein had never met the victim, John McGinest, 25, who was killed with four blasts from a shotgun on the night of Nov. 3, 1979.

Thirteen days later, police arrested Goldstein, who lived near the murder scene in a rented garage. Loran Campbell, the trial’s only eyewitness, told police he saw a man carrying a shotgun run by his home. He identified Goldstein at the trial, but later recanted his testimony during a 2002 appeal before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Campbell died soon after recanting.

Other testimony came from a jailhouse informant, Edward Fink, a heroin addict who was later found to have lied about jailhouse confessions from Goldstein and suspects in nine other cases in order to obtain a reduced and a dropped sentence.

The prosecution was never able to produce the murder weapon that could link Goldstein to the crime.

Goldstein’s conviction was subsequently overturned in December 2003 by a panel of the 9th Circuit Court, which found that the District Attorney’s Office violated his constitutional rights during the 1980 trial. But a challenge by the District Attorney’s Office kept Goldstein in prison for another four months, until Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge James Pierce refused to retry the case based on Campbell’s false testimony.

Rather than being angry and bitter since his release, Goldstein has been scared and insecure.

Goldstein spent his first full day of freedom at a Law Library and the Central Library downtown, because it’s where he felt most comfortable. While in prison, Goldstein spent as much time as possible in the prison’s law library studying for appeals.

"His sole focus for 24 years was getting out of prison," McLane said.

Goldstein also kept up with his Jewish studies. According to Rabbi Menachem Katz of The Aleph Institute, a Chabad-affiliated group that works with Jewish prisoners, Goldstein requested a few books and received regular mailings from the organization when he was in Pleasant Valley State Prison.

When Pleasant Valley didn’t hold a Passover seder in 2001, Goldstein filed a complaint with Aleph’s Rabbi Sholom D. Lipskar.

Al Bonea, Pleasant Valley’s correctional business manager, said that the institution has had trouble attracting a regular rabbi since the last one retired in 2001.

McLane confirmed that Goldstein’s faith is important to him.

"He attended a couple seders when he got out," he said.

Goldstein returned to Topeka, Kan., to visit his mother and other family members after Passover, but the claims and the possibility of a future multimillion-dollar lawsuit will likely keep him tied to Southern California, where he is currently staying in the home of a Jewish couple.

"Rage is not fueling his desire," McLane said. "He’s been wronged, and the only way to make it right is to pay him for the damage they’ve caused."

Behind Restitution

This is the first in a series of articles on Holocaust restitution as The Journal observes the 64th anniversary of Kristallnacht (Nov. 9). The next article will deal with the hands-on work of Bet Tzedek Legal Services, a beneficiary agency of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, and will include a concise listing of all claims categories.

Restitution and reparations to Holocaust victims and their families have been described as a minimal repayment for European Jewry’s material losses, if not their suffering, a trigger for renewed anti- Semitism, a triumph of American justice and, most tellingly, as a minefield of passions.

Picking his way through the minefield for the past five years has been law professor Michael J. Bazyler, whose book, "Holocaust Justice," is to be published by New York University Press next April.

Right off the bat, the book pithily takes care of the Third Reich’s "kleptocracy," whose Nazi elite, according to World War II scholar Allan Millett, consisted of "Lowbrow guys with highbrow pretensions. They stole everything in sight — art, jewelry, artifacts and paintings of the masters."

Altogether, the Nazi loot from the Jews of Europe came to $230 billion-$320 billion in today’s dollars, estimates Bazyler, who teaches at Whittier Law School in Costa Mesa and is the son of Polish and Russian Holocaust survivors.

From its very beginning in the early 1950s, the restitution issue has been driven by deeply felt philosophical and emotional controversies.

At the time, the acceptance by the Israeli government and Holocaust survivors of some $800 million in West German reparations was heatedly denounced as "blood money" meant to "expiate" the Nazi murder of 6 million Jews. Variations on this controversy have continued for half a century.

In 1951, representatives of 23 Jewish organizations met in New York and formed the Conference of Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, Inc. to unify and spearhead demands for restitutions. The Claims Conference, as it is generally known, has since been the object of high praise, as well as bitter denunciations.

In 1996, the battle shifted to the courts, not in Europe where they had proven unsympathetic and ineffective, but in the United States.

Bazyler, whose book is subtitled "The Battle for Restitution in America’s Courts," describes the U.S. justice system as "heroic" and the only one in the world flexible enough to break new ground in the restitution battle.

The first legal shots were fired with the filing of three federal class-action suits against Swiss banks for failure to return money deposited by Jewish account holders just before and during World War II. After two years of legal wrangling and congressional and public pressure, the banks agreed to pay out $1.25 billion, described by Bazyler as the largest settlement ever in a human rights case.

These court victories, he writes, opened "the floodgates of litigation." The next targets of both legal and political pressures were European insurance companies, which had largely failed to honor, for half a century, policies taken out by Holocaust victims and survivors.

Next were demands for compensation by former slave laborers, forced to work under generally inhuman conditions for German companies and their subsidiaries during World War II.

In December 1999, the German government and private corporations settled the slave labor suits for $5 billion. As in other cases, non-Jews benefited greatly from lawsuits filed by American Jewish lawyers and organizations.

Bazyler points out that 80 percent of the slave labor compensations are going to elderly East European Slavs and Romani.

With the slave labor payments, post-war Germany has committed itself to a total of nearly $70 billion in restitution to Jewish and non-Jewish victims of the Nazi regime.

More recently, legal actions have focused on the recovery or compensation from museums worldwide, including some in the United States and Israel, for artworks looted by the Nazis from Jewish collectors.

As the restitution money, large in the aggregate but in small amounts to individual recipients, becomes available, two contentious issues have emerged: Who should get the money? And is the emphasis on monetary compensation obscuring and demeaning the suffering of the 6 million dead and of the roughly 400,000-500,000 survivors living in Israel and the rest of the world.

There is no dissension that the bulk of the money should go to Holocaust survivors, in whose names the lawsuits were filed and who are dying off at a rapid rate.

But should all the money go to survivors or should some be set aside for broader Jewish causes?

Rabbi Israel Singer, president of the Claims Conference and secretary general of the influential World Jewish Congress, has argued that the "heirs of the 6 million is the entire body of world Jewry" and has proposed that roughly 20 percent of restitution moneys be set aside for a Fund of the Jewish People. Such a fund might be used for Holocaust education and remembrance, general Jewish education and to aid Israel.

Most recently, some have proposed that part of the funds go to victims of genocides in Rwanda, Cambodia and Bosnia.

Such proposals are bitterly opposed by the Holocaust Survivors Foundation USA and individual survivors, who depict the Claims Conference as an elitist group of insiders that has sold out the interests of the survivors themselves. Under the motto "Money for persons, not projects," the foundation has criticized, for instance, a $1.45 million grant by the Claims Conference to the Yiddish Theater of Tel Aviv.

Just as acrimonious has been the debate over the morality of demanding restitution funds at all, harking back to the "blood money" controversy in Israel in the 1950s.

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, himself a "hidden child" during the Holocaust, initiated the debate in 1998 by arguing that the lawsuits against Swiss banks threatened to make money "the last soundbite" of the Holocaust.

Columnist Charles Krauthammer warned of an increase of anti-Semitism in Europe, while one of the shrillest critics has accused American Jewish organizations of "extorting" money to perpetuate their existence.

A reasoned response came from Elie Wiesel, who said, "If all the money in all the Swiss banks were turned over, it would not bring back the life of one child. But the money is a symbol. It is part of the story. If you suppress any part of the story, it comes back later, with force and vengeance."

The most lasting legacy of the legal restitution battles may not be the monetary but the historical aspect, and as role models for other international disputes and grievances, Bazyler said.

As an outgrowth of the court cases, many European countries, among them Sweden, Switzerland, France and Italy, have been forced to reexamine their often inglorious wartime roles. Some 50 governments have created commissions of inquiry, or less formal bodies, for self-examination.

Even the United States is now looking into its military’s complicity in the looting of art works during World War II, while Israeli banks have been accused of withholding funds deposited by European Jews in pre-war Palestine.

The same kind of self-examination is revealing the complicity of major corporations in collaborating with the Nazi regime, including such U.S. icons as IBM, General Motors, Eastman Kodak, J.P. Morgan and the Ford Motor Company.

Building on the model of the Holocaust reparations, long- suppressed grievances are being aired. Among plaintiffs now seeking redress are American prisoners of war who were forced to work for Japan in World War II, Asian women exploited as sex slaves by the Japanese army, Armenians charging Turkey with genocide during World War I, and African Americans seeking reparations for the slavery endured by their ancestors. Other victims of historical wrongs are also considering litigation, among them Sudeten Germans expelled from Czechoslovakia after World War II, Nepalese Gurkhas for discrimination while serving in the British army and South African blacks for suffering under the apartheid regime.

Bazyler thinks that the model might even be extended to help bring peace to the Middle East. One of the major factors for the breakdown of peace negotiations has been the Palestinians’ insistence on the right to return to Israel.

If they could drop this demand, he reasons, and focus instead on compensation to those Palestinians who actually lost land and real estate — perhaps counterbalanced by the material losses suffered by Jews in Arab lands who fled to Israel — a solution to the contentious issue might be found.

"It would be a magnificent legacy of Holocaust restitution," Bazyler concluded, "if it could resolve the conflict and bring peace to the state created out of the ashes of the Holocaust."