BERLIN — The head of Berlin’s troubled Jewish community is condemning allegations in a German news report that he obtained his position by voter fraud.
With the opposition party demanding that he step down, Gideon Joffe is calling the accusations “utter nonsense” and part of a “dirty campaign” against him. His office reportedly is considering legal action against the media organization that broke the news, and against the whistle-blower who said he could no longer keep silent.
In the report aired July 28 by RBB, Berlin-Brandenburg Broadcasting, Boris Braun, a former member of the Berlin Jewish community council, said he was influenced to join in the manipulation of paper ballots in Jewish communal elections in 2011, which Joffe’s slate of candidates won.
“If I think about it, I think: God, what have I done?” Braun said in the RBB report. “That drives me mad. I just have to get it off my chest. I can’t keep on thinking and saying: ‘You know nothing.’”
Berlin’s Jewish community has just under 10,000 members today, including minors who cannot vote. Joffe reportedly earns a salary of €125,000 ($140,000) per year; some predecessors have performed the job as volunteers.
Braun, the former head of the cultural department of the community, recalled that during the 2011 election Joffe told members of his faction to urge their friends and acquaintances to vote with absentee ballots rather than to come in to the polling office on election day. Braun said he was shocked to learn that some of these paper ballots were later opened and manipulated to add votes for Joffe and his slate of candidates.
Braun said he realized what was happening after Joffe asked him about a particular paper ballot where someone had voted for a member of the opposition.
“I was totally shocked, looked at him, and said: ‘But the paper ballot envelope was sealed.’” Joffe responded that the person had not voted for all 21 positions, so that more “x” marks could be made on the ballot. “Are you opening the envelope?” Braun recalled asking. “And [Joffe] answered, ‘Yes, of course.’”
Joffe vehemently denied Braun’s recollections, telling RBB they were “a pack of lies.”
The report also includes allegations of irregularity in the community election of December 2015.
Community council member Sergey Lagodinsky, who would have been president had the absentee ballots not tipped the scales in both elections, on Friday called for the board president and his chief officers to step down. He has also said that the matter should be handled by the courts.
Opposition member Micha Guttmann, part of a failed effort to have the 2011 vote nullified, agreed.
“What we’ve suspected for years has been confirmed,” Lagodinsky said in a statement from his Emet party. He called on other members of the community with evidence to come forward.
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