Brandeis institute founder accused of sexual assault

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March 22, 2019

Michael Steinhardt, a billionaire Jewish philanthropist with ties to Brandeis, including an institute bearing his name, was accused of a pattern of sexual harassment in an article published by The New York Times on Thursday.

Steinhardt, a former Wall Street hedge fund manager, donated $12 million to establish the Brandeis Steinhardt Social Research Institute in 2005. He is listed on the Officer and Members of the Brandeis Board of Trustees webpage as a Brandeis trustee emeritus.

Steinhardt was accused by multiple women who worked for different organizations he supported, or helped to found, according to The Times.

A vice president at the Jewish college outreach group Hillel International, Sheila Katz, accused Steinhardt of repeatedly asking her to have sex with him. A woman who worked for Birthright Israel, Deborah Mohile Goldberg, said Steinhardt asked her to have a threesome with another female colleague. An officer at a small nonprofit Steinhardt helped to establish, Natalie Goldfein, said that Steinhardt suggested they have children together, according to The Times piece.

None of the women interviewed by The Times and ProPublica said Steinhardt touched them inappropriately, according to The Times article, though they said they felt pressured to endure the comments out of fear complaining could harm their careers.

Steinhardt is a co-founder of Taglit-Birthright, a program that provides 10-day trips to Israel for young Jews. Steinhardt was also on the Hillel International board of governors until he was removed after an investigation by Hillel International in 2018. Two staff members said that Steinhardt made inappropriate comments to them in 2011 and 2015, according to an article from The Forward. According to the article, Steinhardt later apologized for the first incident.

Katz said that Steinhardt’s behavior was not unknown. “Institutions in the Jewish world have long known about his behavior, and they have looked the other way,” said Katz to the Times. “No one was surprised when I shared that this happened.”

A statement from the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish life signed by Steinhardt’s son, David Steinhardt, says that The Times story “goes out of its way to leave the false impression that Michael propositioned a handful of women,” while Steinhardt “did no such thing.”

It continues, “Did Michael constantly try to fix people up and make inappropriate jokes? Of course he did” but clarifies that these comments were not insidious. It goes on to criticize The Times reporter covering the accusations and quotes Steinhardt’s full apology.

The statement from Steinhardt talks about his provocative sense of humor and reads in part, “In my nearly 80 years on earth I have never tried to touch any woman or man inappropriately. As I have said before, I deeply regret cavalierly making comments in professional settings that were boorish, disrespectful and just plain dumb,” said the statement on the Steinhardt Foundation page.

Steinhardt has been involved in the Brandeis community on multiple occasions in the past.

A 2007 article which interviewed Steinhardt quoted him as saying, “My hope for Brandeis is that it can be the light unto the non-Orthodox, secular, American Jewish world, which I do not think it is yet… But I do believe it, more than any other institution, has that potential.”

In 2009, Steinhardt, who was then a Brandeis trustee, spoke to nearly 200 alumni at an event at the Harmonie Club in New York, according to a Brandeis University alumni chronicle publication.

Steinhardt is not the only Brandeis donor to have made headlines in recent weeks for allegations of misconduct. The accusations against Steinhardt come just weeks after another Brandeis donor, Robert Kraft, who supports the Robert and Myra Kraft and Jacob Hiatt fund at Brandeis, was accused of soliciting prostitutes in a Florida case.

The Brandeis Hoot reached out to a brandeis.edu email account associated with Steinhardt, who did not respond before press time.

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