I have been asked to address this special committee by representatives of the Australian victims of the bridge disaster and their families. I propose to focus on the theme of corporate and moral accountability, and principles of governance and in doing so, explain why it is imperative that, at the very least, the president and chairman of the Maccabi World Union, Messers. Bakalarz and Netanel resign or stand aside.
The Dotan Committee Report which was issued last year made recommendations based upon very serious findings of fact which even at that very premature stage disclosed faulty planning, faulty co- ordination among those responsible for implementation and a total lack of a system for supervision and control. Some may say that even that committee was inordinately generous towards the MWU but ultimately it is not for me to assess the correctness or otherwise of the report. Its finding suggested a level of negligence, which, though not established, would normally have warranted the immediate resignation of those at the head of the MWU. The fact that this did not occur is troubling and suggests, at its lowest, extremely poor judgement. Mr. Netanel's reaction to the report was; "The report showed we had no hand what so ever in this failure".
As to the aftermath of the disaster, they continued to demonstrate poor judgement. First, they failed to communicate with the victims families, an extraordinary omission. The first communication between Mr. Bakalarz and Mr. Elterman was by letter dated 22/12/97, over six months after the incident and only in response to a telephone call from Mr. Elterman himself.
Secondly, they engage in a public relations war and attempt to paint Sasha's father as some sort of lying rogue who has teamed up with the Australian media, and indeed Israeli media including the Jerusalem Post. A stark example of this approach is Bakalarz' report to the MWU congress approximately six months ago. This tactic vividly demonstrates the MWU'S poor judgement and indeed lack of bona fides. It does not serve to mend fences or restore confidence. Mr.Elterman is no more or less than an extraordinary man who with his wife have endeavoured to shepherd their daughter through a maze of demoralising medical procedures. The fact that he has often served, as the spokesperson for the other victims families is merely a symptom of the physical and emotional exhaustion experienced by the others. To seek to attack him for what can only be regarded as tactical manoeuvring is deplorable behaviour.
In February 1998, members of the MWU executive attended a public meeting in Sydney. The meeting was emotional, but at no time was it lacking in civility towards those attending. I represented Mr. Elterman and other families at this meeting. Those of the executive who spoke presented prepared monologues containing nothing concrete, no apologies, and no proposal for the resolution of compensation issues, no mention of accountability, no assumption of moral responsibility. That meeting voted overwhelmingly for the establishment of an independent inquiry into the MWU, of course, the earlier inquiry established by the MWU was not independent and thus ignored the request made by Maccabi Australia on 12/12/97. That letter had also sought the standing down or resignations of Mr. Bakalarz and Netanel, but no such offer was forth coming at the public meeting I have rarely witnessed such a mean-spirited reaction to an issue of public concern. There was only the unflattering sight of the MWU bunkered down and totally unresponsive, apparently more intent on giving the appearance of generosity by flying to Sydney than offering anything in substance. It is common knowledge that these gentlemen could resign or step aside without impinging upon their potential liability as a consequence of the pending civil and criminal proceedings. It is a myth that they are refusing to do so on legal advice. They can stand aside "without prejudice" and appropriate protection can be invoked
The rationale for resignation is as follows: -
It would recognise principles of accountability and governance, which are entrenched in every modern legal system. The president and chairman of the MWU need not have personally built that matchstick like structure to subject themselves to such a duty, indeed, whether or how they were paid for performing their duties is equally irrelevant. They assumed responsibility with all the perks, advantages and disadvantages of their office. They must now act in accordance with accepted principles of accountability and step aside. Resignation would ease the burden of the victims and their families and demonstrate sensitivity. These are people who feel they have been abandoned by the MWU and what is worse have been cast as the villains for daring to voice criticism.
It would send a strong message to Maccabi athletes worldwide that this is an organisation prepared to change direction and address its shortcomings. In so doing, the organisation will be in a position to rebuild its credibility and restore its integrity. It is ultimately a question of trust. If you want parents to send their children here you must show responsibility towards them. If those bearing the ultimate responsibility remain in their positions this will be interpreted in Australia as a lack of compassion and a statement that the Maccabi movement is indifferent to the well-being of our children.