Israelis protest against the proposed changes to the legal system in Haifa, on February 20, 2023. (Shir Torem/Flash90)

Wall Street billionaire ends funding for think tank behind Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul plan

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Wall Street billionaire ends funding for think tank behind Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul plan

Israelis protest against the proposed changes to the legal system in Haifa, on February 20, 2023. (Shir Torem/Flash90)

(JTA) – The Jewish American billionaire known for bankrolling an influential Israeli right-wing think tank said he has stopped doing so because of concerns over the future of Israeli democracy and the disunity within Israeli society. 

Arthur Dantchik, a libertarian and major Wall Street executive, gifted millions in tax-exempt donations to Kohelet Policy Forum, the Jerusalem think tank that devised central aspects of the judicial reforms pursued by the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and detested by the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who have taken to the streets in protest regularly for months. 

Dantchik himself had been the subject of protests at his Philadelphia-area home and office.

The Israeli business journal Calcalist discovered Dantchik’s decision to stop funding the think tank. When it approached Dantchik for comment, he confirmed it in a statement.

“Throughout my life, I have supported a diverse array of organizations that promote individual liberties and economic freedoms for all people,” the statement said. “Nevertheless, when a society becomes dangerously fragmented, people must come together to preserve democracy. I stopped donating to think tanks in Israel, including the Kohelet Policy Forum. I believe what is most critical at this time is for Israel to focus on healing and national unity.”

Exactly how much Dantchik has given to Kohelet has not been disclosed. The very fact of his support for the think tank was unknown until an investigation published by Haaretz in 2021. He is thought to be the group’s largest funder. Kohelet employs dozens of policy experts, researchers and lobbyists and is influential with key members of Netanyahu’s government.  

It is also unknown exactly when Dantchik decided to withhold further donations. The news of the change in his philanthropy comes following repeated pressure by activists aligned with the Israeli protest movement decrying Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul as an assault on democracy. Activists have protested in front of his house and one Israeli protest group placed a full-page advertisement in the Jewish newspaper serving the Philadelphia area. The ad in the Jewish Exponent called on Dantchik “get [his] hands off our democracy.”

It is also unclear whether his decision means that Dantchik has also stopped donating to the Shalom Hartman Institute, which is headquartered in Jerusalem and New York. The Claws Foundation, which Dantchik runs with two other board members, gave nearly $3.3 million to the Shalom Hartman Institute in 2021, the most recent year for which a disclosure is available.

Kohelet and the Hartman Institute have declined to comment on Dantchik’s decision. But the Hartman Institute’s co-presidents, Donniel Hartman and Yehuda Kurtzer, had criticized protests against Dantchuk as an example of “overreach” by the protest movement. “When Arthur Dantchik was ‘exposed’ as a donor to the Shalom Hartman Institute, few sought to ask what it meant for him to support both Hartman and Kohelet,” they wrote in a Times of Israel op-ed in June. “We understood this to mean that he genuinely supports a diversity of views in a way that promotes debate and disagreement in service of democracy.”

A leader of the local protest group, Philadelphians Against Kohelet Forum, rejected the critique. “Mr. Dantchik has refused repeated attempts to establish a dialogue,” Tali Reiner Brodetzki wrote in a response, also on Times of Israel. “If indeed Mr. Dantchik holds the same liberal values as the Hartman Institute, then Am Israel (the Jewish people) would forever be grateful if he would withdraw his support from Kohelet.”

Citing anonymous sources, Calcalist reported that Dantchik’s far wealthier business partner and fellow philanthropist Jeff Yass has not donated to Kohelet, confirming recent reporting by the New York Times and the Washington Post, and contradicting the original investigation by Haaretz that named Yass as a donor to Kohelet. 

Dantchik isn’t the only donor who has responded to Israel’s political crisis by altering their philanthropy in the country. Earlier this week, the Dan David Foundation, which is known for awarding the prestigious Dan David Prize, announced it would stop donating to projects run by the Israeli government. 

“The Dan David Foundation continues to follow with dismay the political developments in Israel, where the government has succeeded in pushing through the first element of a judicial overhaul that has been widely criticized as endangering the balance of powers and undermining the democratic foundations of the state,” the foundation said in a statement. 

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