Yesh Atid's Piron Tried to Steer Funds to School Tied to Big U.S. Donor

Former education minister attempted to transfer $258,000 to an overseas school run by his long-standing donor, the daughter of Michael Steinhardt, documents show.

MK Shay Piron (Yesh Atid) acted when he was Education Minister to transfer one million shekels ($258,000) to an overseas school run by the daughter of Michael Steinhardt, a long-standing donor to Piron. Steinhardt has also provided Yesh Atid with financial guarantees, and the manager of his foundation serves on the board of the party’s international arm, according to documents Haaretz obtained.

Steinhardt, who lives in New York, is an American Jewish billionaire who has contributed greatly to Israel. He is among the founders of Birthright, among many other projects.

Piron is close to Steinhardt, and there are both political and financial connections between the two.

Steinhardt was one of the donors to Piron’s nonprofit organization Hakol Hinuch – The Movement for the Advancement of Education in Israel, which Piron ran before being elected to the Knesset in 2013. Piron’s salary of 43,000 shekels a month at the time was a quarter of the organization’s budget.

For the 2013 elections, Steinhardt provided Yesh Atid with financial guarantees for loans the party took out. After the party won a stunning 19 Knesset seats, there was no need for Steinhardt to actually pay out for the guarantees. The executive director in Israel of the Steinhardt Family Foundation, Tova Dorfman, is also one of the six members of the board of Yesh Atid International.

Despite the close ties between Steinhardt and Piron, the latter continued as education minister to deal with matters concerning Steinhardt. The American’s daughter, Sara Berman, opened a school in New York in 2009, the Hebrew Language Academy Charter School, whose main donor is the Areivim Philanthropic Group in America; the group’s development director P’nina Seplowitz also sits on Yesh Atid International’s board. Though the school is not part of the Steinhardt Family Foundation, Dorfman was the contact person in Israel involved in raising funds for the school.

Piron tried to allocate 500,000 shekels for the school from the Education Ministry budget, and even asked the Diaspora Affairs Ministry to allocate give it a similar sum. The Diaspora Affairs Ministry transferred the sum to the Education Ministry, but because of the government’s collapse, the firing of Piron and the calling of early elections, the 1 million-shekel budget was never transferred to the school.

Piron’s office responded, “Former Education Minister Rabbi Shay Piron never transferred any funds to these schools.”

Dorfman told Haaretz, “I am in contact with Shay Piron and I am in contact with [Naftali] Bennett, but it is not [political]. If you are looking for the party connection, I am sorry but it is not here.”