Billionaire Parts With Group Behind Israel’s Judicial Overhaul
Arthur Dantchik, the American multibillionaire who provided millions to the think tank behind Israel’s highly polarizing judicial overhaul plan, announced on Friday that he would no longer donate to the organization.
Mr. Dantchik, 65, said in a statement that he would part ways with the Kohelet Policy Forum, which conceived a series of measures to transform Israel’s judicial system. The proposal has divided the country and led to weeks of protests. Critics of the plan say it will eliminate crucial checks on executive power and move the government in an autocratic direction.
“When a society becomes dangerously fragmented, people must come together to preserve democracy,” Mr. Dantchik said in the statement, posted to Calcalist, an Israeli news site. “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.”
Kohelet did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday. A spokesman for Mr. Dantchik said he would have no further comment.
Mr. Dantchik is worth an estimated $7.3 billion, according to Forbes, a fortune he earned through Susquehanna International Group, a privately held financial giant that he started with a handful of college classmates and that is based in a suburb of Philadelphia. He kept a scrupulously low profile for decades, and has never sat for an interview.
But a few years ago, his name was surfaced by the Democratic Bloc, a nonprofit in Israel that largely monitors right-wing groups. The group was looking into the funding of Kohelet, a think tank founded in 2012 by a mathematics Ph.D. named Moshe Koppel, who, like Mr. Dantchik, grew up in Queens.
Kohelet had spent years as a behind-the-scenes player in Israeli politics, generating papers and legislative bills with a libertarian bent. The group’s low-profile days ended after the right-wing government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, announced in January that it intended to pass a series of laws in the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, that would strip away crucial powers of the country’s judicial system. Politicians in the government thanked Kohelet for coming up with the particulars of the plan.
The first of these proposals passed in late June, with the Knesset approving a measure that would limit the Supreme Court’s ability to review the “reasonableness” of government decisions.
Ran Cohen, the director of the Democratic Bloc, said of Mr. Dantchik on Friday, “Though we are glad that the inspiring civil resistance in Israel has made him regret his decisions, we hope it is not too late.”
In March, a masked group of army reservists made an unannounced visit to Kohelet’s offices in Jerusalem and left coils of barbed wire and sandbags at its front door. Protesters outside the building waved banners and placards with Mr. Dantchik’s name.
“Funds the coup against Israeli democracy,” read one, above a photograph of Mr. Dantchik’s face.
Soon after, a group of protesters in the United States turned up the pressure by going to Mr. Dantchik’s house and chanting “Shame” over and over. A full-page ad ran in Jewish Exponent, which is based in the Philadelphia area. “Get your hands off our democracy!” it read under a photograph of his face. “Sincerely yours, the people of Israel.”
The impact of Mr. Dantchik’s decision to stop donating to Kohelet is not known. The organization told Jewish Insider on Friday, “We do not comment on individual donors.” But he is considered a crucial donor to the group.
David Segal is a Business section reporter based in London. More about David Segal
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