Businessman Sami Ofer Retracts TA Museum Donation

Businessman Sami Ofer has decided to cancel his donation to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art in the wake of strong criticism surrounding the terms of the contribution.

The board of directors had agreed to rename the museum in honor of Ofer and his wife, Aviva, in return for his $20 million donation, which would cover less than half the costs of a new building.

In an advertisement appearing today in the Hebrew edition of Haaretz, under the headline "Sorry for wanting to contribute, an open letter to the art lovers in Tel Aviv and Israel," the Ofers explain that they decided to retract their donation following the smear campaign against them, the municipality and the museum by a handful of people "who have balked at nothing to besmirch our reputations, and instead of showing gratitude - have shown us ill favor."

The Ofers apologize to Israeli art lovers for not having had "the strength to withstand defamation," and promise to do their part for the museum along with many others in that fundraising campaign that "our critics, doubtless, will lead."

The deal between Sami Ofer and the museum had been approved by the Tel Aviv city council and was awaiting formal approval from the Interior Ministry for the name change.

Meanwhile, the deal aroused vehement objections from people affiliated with the museum, individual and institutional donors and various public figures. Some began to question the legality of the proceedings, while many of the objectors could not understand why a donation on this scale merited changing the name of the entire museum, rather than naming the new wing for the donor. The Education Ministry's museums council convened early this week to discuss the implications of the deal for all Israeli museums.

The museum issued a statement last night thanking the Ofers for their generosity and expressing regret at their decision, which the museum said was understandable.