Lev Leviev talks a good game when it comes to his philanthropic largess. Of course, there is a traditional Jewish obligation to give tzedakah. And as an ardent supporter of Chabad, Leviev would certainly make an effort to observe such a mitzvah. He himself confirms this:
“I am a believer; I believe in G-d. I believe that we, as people, have to do good acts.”
But how well does he observe it? The NY Times Magazine’s profile of him throws out the figure $50-million per year. Most people would sound oohs and aahs to hear such a large number. But if you calculate Leviev’s net worth at $8-billion, which is the number mentioned in the NYT article, then $50-million is roughly 0.625% of his overall worth. That’s less than 1%! Most Americans give roughly 3.5% of their annual income to charity each year. Of course, it’s hard to know Leviev’s annual income and it’s surely less than $8-billion. But still $50-million is much less impressive when seen in this context.
It also appears that Leviev is passing off fraudulent claims about his charitable giving to reporters who write about him. He claimed in this Lifestyles Magazine profile, that he donated to Oxfam America:
Leviev’s philanthropic activities have also touched U.S. cultural institutions, such as the Museum of the City of New York, and U.S. charities, such as the annual Angel Ball (which raises money for cancer research; the Carousel of Hop Ball (one of the most prominent and influential charitable events of its kind), and Oxfam America.
Problem is, Oxfam can’t seem to find any evidence to support the claim. In fact, it’s against Oxfam’s guidelines to accept gifts from anyone whose business dealings violate international law, as Leviev’s building of settlements would. If this aspect of Leviev’s PR puffery is fake imagine how much else might be?
There is even more questionable material in the Lifestyles story:
Leviev prefers to keep a low profile even as he is so active, attending global roundtables, like the World Economic Forum last year in Davos. He grants few interviews and though he circulates among world leaders like Russian president Vladimir Putin – whom he calls a “true friend”- he stays close to his home in Israel, where he lives in a modest house with his wife, Olga, and nearby their nine children and several grandchildren.
Apparently, Leviev has contradicted the author by agreeing to the NYT profile and this interview. In addition, Leviev has just moved his headquarters to London and moved into a $70 million home. Not such a low profile after all.
Leviev likes to compare himself favorably to Bill Gates in terms of his charitable giving. There was a time when Gates was younger that his charitable giving was much less impressive than it is now. But Lev Leviev has a long way to go before he’s in Bill Gates’ league. In fact, given the depth and breadth of the Gates Foundation philanthropic program it’s safe to say that Lev Leviev will never make anywhere near the impact. Not to mention that Leviev’s giving is narrowly focused on supporting right-wing Jewish causes like Chabad and the Israeli settler movement.
check out Leviev’s reply about this Oxfam imbroglio, it’s a real tear jerker:
Lev Leviev Group of Companies response to Adalah-NY letter to Oxfam International
15 Jan 2008
Having fled the yoke of communism as a teenager living in Uzbekistan, Lev Leviev knows oppression firsthand and has used his self-made success to alleviate suffering around the world. His generosity to numerous groups and organizations is motivated by the wish to do good things for others. Despite the negative characterization of his philanthropy by some political groups, Lev Leviev continues to use his philanthropy solely toward that goal.
Richard Silverstein says
Interesting that Leviev doesn’t even CLAIM that he gave to Oxfam nor explain how the mistaken information was circulated. For this reason, I think it’s very important for non-profits to guard their reputations and not allow celebrities or fraudsters to hijack a good cause for personal gain, which is what Leviev seems to have done.
Speaking of philanthropists, this is the most authoritative source on the subject, an they’ve picked up on Leviev’s troubles w/Oxfam:
Note comment #7 — Leviev is going to Davos this week, and one of the weighty matters that will be discussed there is “feeding the hungry.”