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Kohelet Forum’s billionaire donor pulls support

"I believe what is most critical at this time is for Israel to focus on healing and national unity," said Arthur Dantchik.

Prof. Moshe Koppel, chairman of the Kohelet Policy Forum, speaks at a conference at the Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem, Oct. 24, 2017. Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90.
Prof. Moshe Koppel, chairman of the Kohelet Policy Forum, speaks at a conference at the Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem, Oct. 24, 2017. Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90.

U.S. billionaire Arthur Dantchik announced on Friday he would no longer support the Kohelet Forum, a Jerusalem-based conservative think tank credited with helping develop the Netanyahu government’s judicial reform program.

“Throughout my life, I have supported a diverse array of organizations that promote individual liberties and economic freedoms for all people,” Dantchik, 65, told Israeli business site Calcalist.

“Nevertheless, when a society becomes dangerously fragmented, people must come together to preserve democracy. I stopped donating to think tanks in Israel, including the Kohelet Policy Forum. I believe what is most critical at this time is for Israel to focus on healing and national unity,” he said.

Dantchik, reportedly worth $7.3 billion, is co-founder and managing director of Susquehanna International Group, “one of Wall Street’s largest and most successful trading firms,” according to Forbes.

Dantchik is also on the board of directors of Bytedance, the parent company of the social media app TikTok, Calcalist reported, noting he’s also invested in Israeli high-tech companies, including Payoneer, Outbrain and eToro.

Kohelet was tight-lipped about the news, telling JNS only that “we do not comment on individual donors. Donations to Kohelet are broad-based and increasing steadily.”

The Jewish Press reported that Dantchik caved under a relentless assault from anti-judicial reform protesters, who targeted him personally.

“Dantchik, who is an extremely private man, succumbed to pressure after thirty weeks during which a group of Israeli expats followed him everywhere armed with signs, megaphones, screaming slogans incessantly, outside his home and his offices,” the paper said.

Anti-judicial reform groups celebrated the announcement. Ran Cohen, director of the Democratic Bloc, whose group took credit for outing the libertarian Dantchik as a Kohelet donor in 2021, tweeted on Friday:

“Two and a half years have passed since this tweet—the tweet in which we first revealed the names of the anonymous donors of the Kohelet Forum. Today it was announced that Arthur Dantchik will stop donating to them.”

He referred to a March 12, 2021, tweet, which he attached, with a link to a Haaretz article from that time titled “How the Kohelet Forum was born, the most successful project of the right in the last decade—and who finances it.”

However, conservatives condemned the efforts of anti-reform activists to cut off support for competing voices. “The left here, as in the U.S., is speaking in the name of liberalism but is the most illiberal section of Israel’s society. Leftism had a liberal phase in the West, but it ended up sinking back into the Bolshevik cesspool from which it emerged,” Gadi Taub, a senior lecturer at the Federmann School of Public Policy at the Hebrew University, told JNS.

Amihood Amir, chairman of Professors for a Strong Israel, said, “This is another skirmish in the war for the soul of Israel, will it remain a Jewish state or turn into a progressive state.

“Dantchik is a private individual. He decides where he wants to donate to and it is quite understandable if he does not want to be subjected to constant harassment, much as a store owner decides to pay ‘protection’ money to the mafia so they will not burn down his store,” Amir told JNS.

“But it is interesting to understand the process taking place. The shaming Dantchik was subjected to is a common practice by the progressive religion—that of canceling opponents. The reason is not important, the enemy is to be canceled,” Amir said.

He noted the irony that UnXeptable, the anti-judicial reform group that paid for an ad in Philadelphia accusing Dantchik of promoting an agenda in a country in which neither he nor his children lived, is made up of yordim, Israelis who left Israel and who also don’t live in the country.

“Analyzing the case, we see the progressive fingerprints: a narrative vs. the truth, and cancel culture,” Amir said.

Kohelet became a frequent target of anti-reform protesters. In March, masked members of the Israeli group Achim L’Neshek (“Brothers in Arms”) placed barbed wire in front of its Jerusalem offices. Protesters waved banners and placards bearing Dantchik’s name.

“The think tank has been the subject of a biased series of stories in left-wing outlets like Haaretz and The Intercept, as well as the formerly centrist Times of Israel, in which its efforts have been demonized as part of a far-right scheme to transform Israel into a conservative dictatorship,” JNS’s editor-in-chief Jonathan Tobin wrote in March.

The Kohelet Policy Forum had worked behind the scenes on judicial reform. Its chairman, Moshe Koppel, argued that reform was necessary to restore Israel’s system of checks and balances, which had been stripped away by a court system that arrogated powers beyond its purview.

When the Netanyahu government announced its sweeping judicial reform in January, Kohelet’s profile shot to the fore.

The government’s announcement sparked large-scale protests. In March, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called a timeout in response to the outcry. He said he would give a chance for compromise talks with the opposition to play out.

When those talks collapsed, the government moved ahead, passing the first piece of its reform legislation on July 24.

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