Birthright founder Michael Steinhardt accused of inappropriate remarks to female Hillel employees
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Birthright founder Michael Steinhardt accused of inappropriate remarks to female Hillel employees

Michael Steinhardt

Michael Steinhardt in New York, April 12, 2012. (Scott Eells/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

(JTA) — Billionaire philanthropist Michael Steinhardt is the subject of an internal investigation by Hillel International for making inappropriate sexual remarks to two female employees, The New York Jewish Week reported.

Steinhardt, who was not informed directly about the details of the allegations made against him until Monday, when he spoke with two people from a law firm conducting the probe, told The Jewish Week in a July 31 telephone interview that the women “can’t be accusing me of anything other than words.”

“Words are not necessarily innocent,” he also told the newspaper, but said they are not in the category of “touching or grabbing.” He has declined to comment further on the investigation, which began about six weeks ago, according to The Jewish Week.

The newspaper also reported that Hillel removed Steinhardt’s name from the board of governors list on its website several weeks ago.

In addition, Hillel has informed the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life that it is not soliciting the foundation’s planned $50,000 grant this year intended to support Hillel’s Springboard Fellowship, a national project that places recent college graduates at Hillel campuses across the country, The Jewish Week reported, citing unnamed sources within the organization.

Steinhardt has donated millions of dollars to Hillel and is a co-founder of Birthright Israel. He has also funded educational projects of The Jewish Week, the newspaper disclosed. 70 Faces Media, JTA’s parent organization, also receives support from the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life.

Hillel declined to comment to The Jewish Week on the investigation, on whether Steinhardt has been removed from its board of governors and on whether it will refrain from soliciting the planned $50,000 grant.

The newspaper cited sources close to the investigation as saying that the original complaint by a female Hillel staff member took place in 2015, and as a result, Hillel started a practice in which no female employee would meet unaccompanied with Steinhardt. The second woman who came forward received a written apology from Steinhardt, dated Aug. 23, 2011, acknowledging his inappropriate comments made toward her and two male colleagues at a meeting the year before, the newspaper reported.

The article also said that Steinhardt, a collector of antiquities, has had allegations lodged against him of unwelcome sexual comments to female art consultants and gallery employees.