Dear Friends and Colleagues:
You may recall that in September The Jewish Week wrote an article seeking to create controversy out of Michael Steinhardt’s well-known sense of humor. Today, The New York Times is publishing a similar story — written, bizarrely, by the same reporter — that goes out of its way to leave the false impression that Michael propositioned a handful of women.
He, of course, did no such thing. Nor does the article actually claim that he ever tried to have sex with anyone. But the innuendo and purposeful distortions are clearly designed to harm Michael and mislead readers.
Admittedly, Michael’s sense of humor can be insensitive, and he has apologized for the unintended bad feelings his remarks have caused. As he said months ago: “I am sorry and deeply regret causing any embarrassment, discomfort or pain which was never my intention.”
To characterize provocative remarks made in jest and in group settings as actual propositions intentionally distorts the context as well as Michael’s intent — in order to fabricate something that never happened.
This new article is the result of a six-month campaign by The Times of trying to dig up dirt on Michael by contacting about a hundred individuals. The article highlights four additional accounts of Michael making the exact same kind of provocative, inappropriate comments in meetings and at events over the last 25 years that The Jewish Week already wrote about. A former employee who was terminated now provides a false claim about the circumstances of his departure. There is no allegation Michael ever touched anyone inappropriately. Michael has never engaged in unwanted physical contact, sexual pressure or sexual harassment.
Did Michael constantly try to fix people up and make inappropriate jokes? Of course he did. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that the article goes out of its way to make these comments sound insidious.
We have received many phone calls over the past six months from Jewish professionals who say the lead reporter on the story tried to pressure them to conjure up stories they did not believe ever occurred. They say the reporter became angry when she was told that things did not happen the way she was insisting they did. The reporter ignored that hundreds of Jewish professionals, art dealers, education experts, and conservationists always realized Michael was never being serious.
Sadly, despite its hyperbolic headline and the sensational language, The Times refused to publish Michael’s full statement:
“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. They were part of my shtick since before I had a penny to my name, and I unequivocally meant them in jest. I fully understand why they were inappropriate. I am sorry. I never intended to cause any embarrassment, discomfort or pain.”
“There’s no dispute that my attempts at humor could be provocative. As an example, it’s well known that I would often say at events with young people, ‘Look around, if any of you who are here now marry each other I will give you a free honeymoon on a Caribbean Island.’ And I gave 30 or 40 honeymoons. It was a conspicuous pattern. I hope my inappropriate banter, which was always meant in a lighthearted way, does not now become twisted into being something it is not.”
The reporters never once called either head of Michael’s foundations — in America or Israel. The reporters never called any of the dozens of women who worked for Michael when he ran Steinhardt Partners, the hedge fund he ran for nearly 30 years. This was a coordinated attack to focus only on women who might have something negative to say about Michael.
Perhaps most disappointing, this story Is written during a time when our society is being greatly improved by exposing how too many prominent men have misused their power to coerce women into sexual activity. This article does not in any way accuse Michael of engaging in that kind of reprehensible conduct.
Michael is an equal-opportunity teaser — teasing men and women alike. The reporters apparently overlooked this fact because teasing men and women, alike, doesn’t make for a great story.
We are evaluating our legal options over this intentionally defamatory article and will keep you updated.
Michael remains committed to his philanthropic work involving education, culture and the Jewish future. In Israel, he will continue to help improve the conditions of Israel’s most marginalized populations. For years, he has supported shelters for women escaping sexual abuse, and empowerment programs for Bedouin women and girls — details that the reporters never asked about.
We at both Steinhardt Foundations in America and Israel understand the importance of creating safe and respectful workplaces in the Jewish world and our work with grantees and partners reflects that. We look forward to continuing our work together in productive ways that reflect shared values and commitments.
Rabbi David Gedzelman,
President and CEO, The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life
Executive Director, The Steinhardt Family Foundation in Israel