Likud Lawmaker Accuses Wexner Foundation of ‘Poisoning the Minds’ of Beneficiaries

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Karhi at a session of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, in June 2020.
Karhi at a session of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, in June 2020.Credit: Knesset spokesperson / Shmulik Grosman

The Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee held a hearing on Wednesday on the activities in Israel of the U.S.-based Wexner Foundation, during which a right-wing lawmaker accused the foundation of political bias and “poisoning the minds” of program participants.

The session, which was convened at the request of Likud Knesset member Shlomo Karhi, officially dealt with cooperation between Israel and the foundation, which funds a program to train senior members of the Israeli public service. In practice, however, Karhi sought to undermine the foundation’s operations.

At the hearing, Karhi accused the foundation of working to spread “anti-democratic poison that will infiltrate the minds of our most senior civil servants.” The foundation, he alleged, “has a clear left-wing bias.” The cost of the program per student, he claimed, is 1 million shekels ($291,000). “Won’t any of the graduates feel obligated to [the foundation] for many years?” he asked.

Karhi also made reference to the millions of shekels which, according to reports, former Prime Minister and Defense Minister Ehud Barak received from the foundations for studies that he was commissioned to carry out. “Did Barak do anything for the foundation at the Defense Ministry?” Karhi insinuated. “Did the foundation ask him to do anything for it?”

Ehud Barak speaks during an interview with Reuters in Tel Aviv, January 29. 2019.Credit: Ronen Zvulun / AP

Karhi also raised allegations of the involvement of the late financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein in the Columbus, Ohio-based foundation, stating that Epstein had been a vice president of the foundation. Karhi added that, despite denials from the foundation that Epstein personally contributed to the foundation, there is documentation that he contributed at least $9.5 million.

“Would anyone think it appropriate for Israel to receive support from a foundation whose resources came from pedophiles?” the Likud lawmaker asked.

Yisrael Beiteinu Knesset member Eli Avidar slammed Karhi over his allegations, questioning the reliability of his information and adding that “defaming the graduates of the foundation is a crime.”

Leslie Wexner at the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio, September 19, 2014.Credit: Jay LaPrete / AP

The Wexner Foundation issued a statement in response to condemn “the delegitimization campaign that aims to harm the program its mission to enrich the senior management in public service.”

“The foundation management disgustedly rejects the claim that the foundation functions from any political considerations, and that can be attested to by hundreds of graduates from various backgrounds and points of view,” the foundation said. “The Wexner Foundation management sees this as a worrying and serious attempt to harm a foundation that from its inception has acted from pure Zionistic motivations and will make every effort to ensure that the public service training program, among the most successful and high-quality in Israel, will continue for many years to come.”

The Wexner Foundation was founded in 1980 and among its other activities runs training programs for senior Israeli public servants in cooperation with Harvard University. The graduates of the program reportedly include Supreme Court Justice Uzi Vogelman, Israeli army Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi, and former State Prosecutor Moshe Lador.

Over the past two years, the foundation has come under major attack from the Israeli right-wing with allegations that it is “engineering” the outlook of the program’s graduates and encouraging left-wing views among senior public servants in Israel.

Another focus of the criticism is the $2.9 million in consulting fees that the foundation reportedly paid Barak. Following several years in which Barak and the foundation refused to provide details about what services were rendered in exchange, last week the foundation disclosed that one of Barak’s studies related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict while another, on the subject of leadership, was never completed. The content of the research has not been released.

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