Michael Steinhardt, the former Wall Street hedge fund manager and co-founder of Birthright, has been removed from the Hillel International board of governors after being accused by two female staff members of sexual harassment. Hillel also announced it would not apply for a Steinhardt Foundation $50,000 grant this year.
Hillel knew about these charges against Steinhardt going all the way back to 2015. But only after the #MeToo movement gathered steam did groups like Hillel realize they couldn’t continue sweeping the peccadillos of brutal executives and donors under the rug. No doubt, they delayed taking action because billionaire donors don’t grow on trees. And much can be forgiven when your donations are in the seven or eight-figures. Someone ought to ask Eric Fingerhut, with his $500,000 (2016) annual salary what he’s been doing all these years. The Jewish college non-profit is pursuing an independent investigation of the incidents using an outside law firm.
Jewish Week also detailed a number of other serious allegations against Steinhardt by female art consultants and gallery staff who accused him of similarly outrageous sexual innuendo, including a demand that she go to a hotel and have sex with an Orthodox rabbi. There were also requests that some of the women have sex with him. Steinhardt’s defense seems to be that he routinely speaks this way to women and that his remarks should be seen in the light-hearted manner in which he intended them. In one incident, he told one of the victims he wished we could return to the 14th or 15th century when women didn’t make such problems.
It’s no surprise that Steinhardt’s attitude toward women infected Birthright as well, with its hypersexualized environment encouraging “hook-ups” between single young men and women. The supposed intent was to foster Jewish families and the Jewish future by commencing the coupling on a Birthright trip in the Jewish homeland. Steinhardt has contributed $25-million overall to this group.
He is also a major donor to a number of other major American Jewish institutions. The Steinhardt Social Research Institute at Brandeis University features his name. It also, not unsurprisingly, regularly publishes academic reports touting the wonders of the Birthright program as guarantor of Jewish survival. A conflict of interest if ever there was one, tarnishing whatever credibility the social science research may’ve had. Steinhardt has also endowed a research center at NYU. One wonders how these institutions will react to the news that their philanthropic sugar daddy is accused of being a perv.
— Mairav Zonszein (@MairavZ) April 16, 2018
I jocularly have taken to calling him Mike “The Finger” Steinhardt after he showed his displeasure with Jewish Voice for Peace members protesting outside a Birthright fundraising gala by lifting his hand and delivering a “middle finger salute.” He also called the demonstrators “stupid left-wing Jews.” I guess we should be thankful–at least he didn’t call ’em “worse than kapos.”
Coming out of Wall Street’s toxic male culture, it’s no surprise Steinhardt would exhibit these attitudes toward women. However, the Jewish communal world is somewhat more genteel and female communal workers are perhaps a bit more “educated” and enlightened in this #MeToo era. They don’t take as kindly to it as in the confines of the money pits of Wall Street.
As I wrote a few days ago about another accused Likudist sex offender, David Keyes, though there are only a handful of female victims at this point, the number is almost certain to balloon as soon as the news spread and sinks is. Victims don’t necessarily want to come forward alone. But there is strength and courage in numbers. The floodgates I’m certain will open.
Steinhardt is a particularly egregious example of the Jewish male ego run rampant. He’s known for his imperiousness and for his ardent advocacy on Israel’s behalf. His politics are full-blown Likudist. He also likes to boast that the home he bought in west Jerusalem’s Talbiya neighborhood was once owned by Martin Buber, founder of the Brit Shalom movement. However, what Steinhardt neglects to mention is that this home was given to Buber after 1948 by the State. He determined that the previous Palestinian owner had “left for Turkey.” Which of course means it’s likely the owners were expelled during Nakba. So, in effect, Steinhardt is living in and on stolen Palestinian property.
This sort of moral obtuseness is characteristic of the white male Neanderthal culture of the Jewish communal élite. They’re rich, they’re ostentatious, they’re egotistical, they’re right (in both senses of the word), and by God you’re gonna know it. They don’t brook discussion or debate. They know what’s right. They don’t need to hear from others with opposing views. And that, in short, is the tragedy of American Jewry. I wrote a chapter for a book published last year, whose title (the chapter) was, The Closing of the American Jewish Mind. Steinhardt is a perfect exemplar of the phenomenon.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.