Tuesday, March 21, 2023

The Think Tank Behind the Judicial Overhaul Now Dividing Israel

Here is more from the New York Times:

For years, Kohelet Policy Forum quietly churned out position papers, trying to nudge government policy in a more libertarian direction. Then, starting in January, it became more widely known as one of the principal architects of the judicial overhaul proposal that has plunged Israel into a crisis over the future of its democracy.

If the plan succeeds, it would be a stunning victory not only for the think tank, but also for the people behind it: two guys from Queens.

The first is Moshe Koppel, a 66-year-old mathematics Ph.D. who grew up in New York City and moved to Israel in 1980. He founded Kohelet in 2012 and has been drafting laws and producing conservative and libertarian policy papers with a roster of full- and part-time scholars that now numbers 160.

Kohelet is not required to disclose the names of individual donors, and for years Mr. Koppel has artfully deflected questions about funding.

But one source of money is a second New Yorker: Arthur Dantchik, a 65-year-old multibillionaire who has donated millions to Kohelet, according to people familiar with his philanthropic giving.


Mr. Dantchik has an estimated net worth of $7.2 billion.  It has previously been reported that Jeff Yass, whose estimated net worth is $28.5 billion, is a key donor to the think tank, although people familiar with Yass deny that.

Much of Mr. Dantchik's giving is channeled through the Reston, VA-based Claws Foundation, which lists Dantchik and Yass as two of its directors.  It has given to organizations such as the Cato Institute and Ayn Rand Institute.

Update: On March 24, the Washington Post (WaPo) published its own story about the Kohelet Policy Forum, calling it "little-known" and "secretive."  It notes that Kohelet is Israel's first American-style think tank, employing 160 researchers who court like-minded politicians with free research, bill, and conference invitations.

Soldiers and reservists opposed to Israel's judicial legislation demonstrated outside the think tank's Jerusalem headquarters, blocking the entrance will bags filled with fake cash and rallying under signs read "Kohelet is tearing us apart," according to the WaPo.

The article also notes that Kohelet helped draft the 2018 Nation-State Law, which, among other things, removed Arabic as an official language.

Kohelet also helped rewrite Israeli civic textbooks, removing sections on Palestinian history and emphasizing Israel's Jewish values over democratic ones, according to WaPo.

Kohelet was founded in 2012.