Michael Steinhardt is a New York billionaire philanthropist who has given tens of millions to Jewish nonprofits. He has been accused of sexual harassment by seven women who worked with him, The New York Times reported.
Six women told The Times and another alleged in a lawsuit that Steinhardt made sexual comments to them. One women seeking funding for her organization says Steinhardt repeatedly asked if she wanted to have sex with him in their first meeting. Another woman said he asked her and a colleague if they wanted to have a threesome with him. All of the women said Steinhardt made inappropriate comments but none have accused him of any physical contact.
Sixteen people corroborated the accusers’ allegations to the Times.
Steinhardt, 78, is a retired hedge fund manager who has given more than $120 million to charities through his foundation, The Times reported.
Steinhardt in a statement claimed that the comments “were part of my schtick” and said he “unequivocally meant them in jest.”
A spokesperson for Steinhardt denied “many of the specific actions or words” that the women alleged he made, The Times added.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Michael Steinhardt is a Former Hedge Fund Manager Who Gave Millions to Jewish Groups
Steinhardt is a former hedge fund manager at Steinhardt Partners whose name appears on numerous institutions across New York City.
N.Y.U. Steinhardt is New York University’s largest graduate school. His name appears on the Steinhardt conservatory at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and at the Steinhardt gallery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. His name is also on a new natural history museum in Tel Aviv, Israel.
He is best known for his contributions to charitable Jewish groups and is the co-founder of Birthright Israel, an organization that has sent 600,000 young Jews on free trips to the country.
According to The Times, his foundation has contributed $127 million to charitable causes since 2003.
2. 7 Women Say Michael Steinhardt Sexually Harassed Them
Six women accused Steinhardt of sexual harassment in interviews with The Times and another woman accused him of sexual harassment in a lawsuit. None of the women said he touched them inappropriately but said they felt pressured to “endure demeaning sexual comments and requests out of fear that complaining could damage their organizations or derail their careers,” The Times reported, adding that the women said “witnesses to the behavior said nothing or laughed along.”
Sheila Katz said that she hoped to persuade Steinhardt to up his donation to Hillel International, a Jewish college outreach program, when he repeatedly asked if she wanted to have sex with him at their first meeting. She said he later told her he would not fund her projects unless she returned with a husband and child. Hillel confirmed that Katz reported the incident but continued to accept Steinhardt’s donations until last year, when it launched an investigation into the incident. The investigation found that Steinhardt harassed both Katz and another employee.
Deborah Mohile Goldberg, who worked for Birthright Israel, said Steinhardt asked if she and a female colleague wanted to have a threesome with him.
Natalie Goldfein, who worked for a Steinhardt-linked nonprofit, said he said during a meeting that they should have kids together.
Rabbi Rachel Sabath Beit-Halachmi, a Jewish scholar, said Steinhardt suggested she become his “concubine” when he funded her first rabbinical position two decades ago.
Two other women who worked for a small Jewish nonprofit said Steinhardt suggested the three of them take a bath together, calling it a “menage a trois.”
Steinhardt previously appeared in two sexual harassment lawsuits filed in 2012 and 2013 against a Manhattan art gallery.
Two women who worked at the gallery, where Steinhardt was a prominent collector, said Steinhardt made sexual comments to them. Karen Simons said Steinhardt asked her to have sex with him during a phone conversation. The suit was later discontinued.
3. Accuser Says Many People Knew and ‘No One Was Surprised’ at Allegations
Katz, now a vice president at Hillel, told The New York Times that Jewish groups have long known about Steinhardt’s actions and did nothing.
“Institutions in the Jewish world have long known about his behavior, and they have looked the other way,” Katz said. “No one was surprised when I shared that this happened.”
Numerous sources interviewed by The Times confirmed Katz’s allegation.
Rabbi Irving Greenberg, the former president of the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life, told The Times that he “repeatedly rebuked” Steinhardt for his language but insisted they were “bantering, not threatening.”
“I understand that the women felt more shaken or threatened than I recognized at the time,” he said.
Greenberg added that he told Steinhardt his behavior was “out of bounds.”
“It doesn’t excuse it and it doesn’t justify it, but I don’t believe that he seriously was recruiting Rachel to be his concubine,” he said. “It’s typical outlandishness.”
Shimshon Shoshani, the former head of Birthright, insisted that his comments should not be taken “seriously.”
“Even if there were some comments, about sex, about women, I wouldn’t take it seriously,” he said, “because he made important decisions in other areas concerning Birthright.”
Consultant Shifra Bronznick told The Times she publicly condemned Steinhardt’s comments about a woman’s fertility that she says he made at a 2004 conference.
“When people say bad things about Jews, our community leaders are on red alert about the dangers of anti-Semitism,” she said. “But when people harass women verbally instead of physically, we are asked to accept that this is the price we have to pay for the philanthropic resources to support our work.”
Rabbi Sabath also rejected the notion that Steinhardt being a “great benefactor” in any way excused his behavior.
“But his being a megafunder can’t allow for, or excuse, this behavior, and it has,” she said.
4. Investigation Found That Steinhardt Sexually Harrassed Multiple Women
Last year, Hillel International hired a law firm to independently investigate allegations against Steinhardt and later removed his name from its board of governors and did not pursue a $50,000 contribution he had pledged.
The law firm concluded that Katz’s complaint was justified and also determined that a second employee had been harassed by Steinhardt as well.
“It pains us greatly that anyone in the Hillel movement could be subjected to any form of harassment,” the organization said in a memo to employees.
“I want to let other women who went through similar things to know that they are not alone,” Katz told The Times. “And I want organizations, and in particular Jewish organizations who take his money, to consider the impact that’s had on people like me.”
5. Steinhardt Denied That He Sexually Harassed Anyone, Says Comments Were All ‘In Jest’
Steinhardt told The Times in a statement that the comments were just jokes.
“In my nearly 80 years on earth, I have never tried to touch any woman or man inappropriately,” he said, adding that provocative remarks “were part of my schtick since before I had a penny to my name, and I unequivocally meant them in jest. I fully understand why they were inappropriate. I am sorry.”
Steinhardt’s spokesman denied that he “seriously, credibly” asked any of the women for sex. The spokesman denied Katz’s, Goldfein’s, Goldberg’s, and Rabbi Sabath’s allegations.
Charles Bronfman, the billionaire heir to the Seagram fortune who co-founded Birthright Israel with Steinhardt, insisted to the Times that Steinhardt simply has a “unique sense of humor.”
“He loves to tease males and females, and certainly his very good friends,” he said. “I can attest to that! Always has. But to conjure up intentions that he never had or has is more than a disservice. It’s downright outrageous!”