The Ties Between Netanyahu and U.S. Tycoon Behind 'Women-free' Tel Aviv Concert

Jay Schottenstein took most of the flak over the event scheduled for October in Rabin Square, after he was mentioned as a sponsor.

Jay Schottenstein at the 76th Annual Two Ten Footwear Foundation dinner and awards on December 1, 2015 in New York City.
Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for Two Ten Footwear Foundation/AFP

The Jewish-American billionaire Jay Schottenstein found himself on Sunday at the center of a public storm in Israel after it was reported that he was behind the exclusion of women singers from a concert, since canceled, scheduled to be held in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on October 9.

The storm broke out after Haaretz reported on the planned performance. The event’s musical producer and director, singer Assaf Amdursky, was quoted as saying the concert was to be funded by a religious Jew who observes a strict interpretation of Jewish law according to which men are prohibited from listening to women sing.

Social media networks in Israel erupted over the report, with Schottenstein taking most of the flak because a foundation operated by his family was mentioned as one of the sponsors. Commenters on Facebook accused him of double standards, noting that American Eagle Outfitters, a clothing retailer in which Schottenstein has a stake, regularly shows revealing photos of women. Faced with these protests, Schottenstein issued a statement denying any connection to the Rabin Square concert.

Schottenstein built a fashion empire in the United States and has numerous business, financial and political ties to Israel. Schottenstein made his money in retail. Jay’s grandfather Ephraim Schottenstein, who immigrated to the United States from Lithuania, established an eponymous department store in Columbus, Ohio in 1917. But Jay is considered the empire builder of the family business. He is the chairman of American Eagle, which is traded on Wall Street at a valuation of $3.3 billion and has 20,000 outlets across the United States and hundreds of stores overseas. He is also the chairman of the DSW shoe store chain and has a stake in the Albertsons supermarket chain.

Although his business center is in the United States, Schottenstein never neglected his ties with Israel. Associates say he is a regularly visitor who celebrates the Jewish holidays here.

Some 18 months ago it was reported that family members had donated $157,000 to the primary campaign of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Schottenstein is a follower of Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto, who was convicted in Israel of bribery and obstruction of justice. Schottenstein bought a house for the rabbi, worth over $11 million, near the beach in Ashdod.

Schottenstein is a major Jewish philanthropists. He bankrolled the Schottenstein Edition of the Babylonian Talmud, a major donor to the Jewish National Fund and a member of the organization’s World Chairman’s Council. He holds leadership positions in a large number of Jewish charities and institutions, including the Mesorah Heritage Foundation, the Columbus Torah Academy and the city’s Congregation Torat Emet in Columbus. He also funds research grants at Israeli and U.S. universities and educational institutions in Israel.

Schottenstein is a close business partner to the Wiesel family, owners of Israel’s Fox clothing chain. In 2013 Fox obtained a license to operate American Eagle stores in Israel. Last week a group of investors including Schottenstein and the Wiesel family contracted to purchased 45% of the storied Brill Building, near Times Square in Manhattan, for $140 million.

In 2012 Schottenstein bought four apartments with a total floor space of 1,400 square meters in the Waldorf Astoria hotel project in Jerusalem for 110 million shekels ($28 million).

As part of a group of investors, Schottenstein bought a 50% controlling stake in Israel’s Carmel Winery in 2013.