(26 Mar 1998) English/Nat

A leader of the World Jewish Congress said on Thursday he’s cautiously optimistic a settlement can be reached with Swiss banks on its assets from the Nazi era.

Israel Singer, secretary general of the World Jewish Congress, commented before testifying before a committee of American public finance officials who’ll decide whether to recommend sanctions against Swiss banks.

Before the meeting, the U-S and Swiss governments issued a joint statement opposing boycotts, calling for cooperation instead.

Ahead of giving his submission to a closed hearing of a committee that will decide whether to recommend sanctions against the Swiss banks, the leader of the World Jewish Congress was guardedly optimistic.

SOUNDBITE: (English)
“There will be a twelfth-hour “deus ex machina” (an unexpected event which saves a seemingly hopeless situation) where the banks and the institutions in Switzerland will realise that this is a moral issue that needs to be addressed in an honourable way.”
SUPER CAPTION: Israel Singer, Secretary-General, World Jewish Congress

Now the hearings have started, there’s a feeling that some sort of justice could be close.

SOUNDBITE: (English)
“We wait for 50 years for justice to come out. We don’t want to fight with Swiss banks, we don’t want to fight with the Swiss nation. We want just one thing: justice will come out as soon as possible.”
SUPER CAPTION: Avraham Hirschson, Member of Israeli Parliament and Chairman of Knesset Committee on Restitution

The all-day hearing was chaired by Alan Hevesi, New York City’s comptroller.

He said he hoped that by day’s end he would “be able to tell the press and the public that we are close to an agreement on resolving all the issues on the table.”

Scheduled witnesses included representatives of three major Swiss banks and of the Israeli parliament, and lawyers in a multibillion-dollar class-action lawsuit brought by Holocaust survivors and Stuart Eizenstat, U-S Undersecretary of State, who is the chief government official on the issue.

Hevesi’s committee of five, plus an aide to Senator Alfonse D’Amato, (Republican New York) represents 800 financial officers from states and municipalities around the United States.

It was established three months ago when a moratorium on sanctions against the Swiss was adopted.

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