Hillel International investigation finds sexual harassment claims against some donors ‘justified’

By MARCY OSTER

(JTA) — Hillel International has issued a confidential statement to its professional staff and board of directors about an internal investigation into sexual harassment allegations against some donors.

The statement said that the six-month investigation confirmed the allegations, The New York Jewish Week reported in an article posted Sunday on its website. The Jewish Week said it obtained a copy of the statement, which was distributed to Hillel staff on Friday.

“In each case, it was found that the complaints were justified, and that the individuals had been subjected to inappropriate comments and/or suggestions by one or more of our donors,” the statement said. “In one case, investigators found that Hillel’s response was not timely, thereby causing additional harm. It pains us greatly that anyone in the Hillel movement could be subjected to any form of harassment. We have apologized to these respected individuals.”
The statement does not name any specific individuals. However, in September, The Jewish Week reported that billionaire philanthropist Michael Steinhardt was a subject of the investigation stemming from allegations about inappropriate sexual remarks he made to two female employees. Its latest article includes an apology from Steinhardt.
The newspaper report said that Hillel’s outside investigators “have recommended the adoption of comprehensive changes in Hillel’s policies, practices and procedures in dealing with claims by employees of harassment or discrimination.”

Hillel’s statement was issued as a private, in-house communication to its professional staff members in the United States and around the world, and to its board of directors, whose members must sign a code of ethics, according to The Jewish Week. Hillel does not intend to release the report.

Steinhardt has donated millions of dollars to Hillel and is a co-founder of Birthright Israel, the free 10-day trips to Israel for young Jewish adults. He also has funded educational projects of The Jewish Week, and 70 Faces Media, JTA’s parent organization, receives support from the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life.

Steinhardt provided a statement to The Jewish Week about the findings.

“If I had been told immediately about concerns regarding anything I said at the time, I would have apologized immediately,” the statement said. “I only recently learned about this investigation when Hillel called me about comments I made several years ago. I am sorry and deeply regret causing any embarrassment, discomfort or pain, which was never my intention.”

The newspaper cited sources close to the investigation as saying that allegations were made against a very small number of Hillel’s thousands of donors.

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