Israeli University in West Bank Fires Vice President Over Scholarship-for-kickbacks Claim

University found that official in charge of donor relations promised a scholarship to an applicant in exchange for a cut of the funds, which he denies

Or Kashti
Or Kashti
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Ariel University in 2018.
Ariel University in 2018.Credit: Moti Milrod
Or Kashti
Or Kashti

The official in charge of donor relations at Ariel University was fired this week after the West Bank institution determined that he promised to obtain a generous scholarship for a medical student in exchange for part of the stipend.

Yakov Gaon had served for three years as vice president for development and external affairs, the office responsible for fundraising and donor relations at AU.

LISTEN: High priests, holy smoke and cannabis in the TempleCredit: Haaretz

University heads had sought to quash publicity about the incident, which involved a few of Ariel’s biggest donors. They included the Falic family, which operates the Duty Free Americas chain of airport stores, and Dr. Miriam Adelson. She and her casino-magnate husband Sheldon Adelson are the main benefactors of the university’s new medical school, which bears their name.

Documents obtained by Haaretz show that in December Gaon was sent to raise money at a Friends of Ariel University event in the U.S.

In internal discussions held at the university, its president, Prof. Yehuda Danon, said “many important people” attended the Florida gathering and that Miriam Adelson was the central figure.

Danon said that in late April the Adelson Foundation informed him that a medical student at the university claimed that at the conference Gaon had promised to obtain a 50,000 shekel ($14,400) scholarship in exchange for a cut of the funds.

By way of comparison, the top-ranking students on the schools rector’s list receive a 1,000 shekel scholarship; the president’s award is worth 10,000 shekels. All of these are awarded in accordance with clear criteria. The “private” scholarship allegedly proposed by Gaon violates academic norms.

“The internal auditor found a few problems in financial conduct with regard to the scholarships,” Danon said. The chairman of the university’s executive committee, attorney Marc Zell, said, “this mustn’t be discussed with anyone.”

The incident reveals an internal struggle among senior figures at the institutions about its closeness to Adelson and the conduct of communications with her.

After a hearing for Gaon last week, the committee that conducted it found the student’s version of events “acceptable and more reasonable than that offered by Gaon.”

Gaon denied having told the student “We shall have to work together” or discussing at the conference a potential donor who wanted to award scholarships to three medical students who met the criteria of being “an upstanding, very Zionist person who had served in an elite military unit,” according to the student’s claim. The student said Gaon had at first asked for a 25 percent commission but finally agreed to 18 percent.

“We reached the conclusion that Gaon had indeed asked the student for part of the scholarship which he had obtained by Gaon’s active help,” the committee concluded. It added that the vice president for development “inappropriately exploited his position and authority over the student to receive a personal favor (which he ultimately did not receive).”

The committee also found that Gaon had “hurt the university’s reputation at least with regard to two donors, two families one of whom is the university’s largest donor.”

Gaon said in response that the complaint was bogus and that his dismissal “is due to the ties between donors abroad and senior administrators” at the university.

Ayala Honigman, a lawyer for Gaon, said that in his three years in the position her client had raised significant mounts of money for the university and was very successful at his job. She added that he was previously the executive vice president of the Tzohar organization of Zionist Orthodox rabbis.

“He has never had a blot on his record and his honesty has never been questioned. This is a baseless complaint for which there is no evidence,” Honigman said. She added that she planned to request an injunction against the dismissal from a labor court within days.

Ariel University declined to comment.

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