Forward says Adelson Birthright pledge is in doubt

Birthright Israel is not assuming that casino mogul Sheldon Adelson will make good on a pledge he made to the organization for this year, the Forward reports.

In September, Adelson pledged $30 million to be paid over the next two years to Birthright, which takes Jews aged 18-26 on free 10-day trips to Israel. At the time, Birthright said $20 million of the pledge was to be paid out in 2009 and $10 million in 2010. That would bring Adelson’s total gifts and pledges to the organization since late 2006 to about $100 million.

But, according to the Forward, the $20 million pledged for 2009 is in doubt, as Adelson, who was once the country’s third wealthiest citizen, has lost nearly 95 percent of the stock value of his Las Vega Sands Corp. The Forward does not address the $10 million for 2010. The newspaper reports:

“What remains up in the air is the summer trips, and there we’ll have to figure out what to do fairly soon,” said Michael Steinhardt, a philanthropist who helped found Birthright and who remains a prominent donor and board member. “We’re optimistic that we will get the money from Sheldon and other money to have a solid summer trip, as well, but we don’t know that yet.”

A high-level source close to Birthright, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed that Adelson’s donation was still in doubt. The source said that if Adelson’s money doesn’t come through, and if fundraising doesn’t pick up to compensate, the organization could face major cutbacks in the number of young Jews it sends to Israel in the coming summer.

“Last year we had 25,000 kids in the summer. If we don’t raise money, we’ll have only 5,000 kids in the summer,” the source said.

Birthright officials who spoke on the record to the paper said they still expect Adelson to make good on his pledge:

Gidi Mark, Birthright’s CEO, vigorously denied that the Adelson gift was in doubt. Insinuations to the contrary were “false and outrageous,” he said.

Recently the Fundermentalist heard from an official involved at a high level both with Birthright and two agencies that fund the organziation — the United Jewish Communities and the Jewish Agency for Israel — that the Adelson money was in doubt.

After inquiring about the possibility that Adelson could default on his pledges, I received the following email on Nov. 20 from the outgoing president of the Birthright Israel Foundation, which is the vehicle through which private philanthropists’ money flows into the organization: 

Dear Jacob,

I spoke to Michael Bohnen, President of the Adelson Family Foundation, and neither he nor I have heard this, and I have no reason to change any of my previous statements about the Adelsons’ past, present and future philanthropy to the Birthright Israel project.

Yours,
Jay Golan
President
Birthright Israel Foundation

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