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The Hub of the Jewish Neoconservative Echo Chamber
by Marsha B. Cohen
The Tikvah Fund is a private philanthropic foundation that works closely with neoconservative think tanks and media outlets as well as an array of academic institutions to promote conservative ideologies. The foundation seeks to influence both academic discourse and the media on issues impacting economics, politics, culture, and religion, with a particular emphasis on the role of Judaism in society.
Tikvah’s description of itself as “politically Zionist, economically free-market oriented, culturally traditional, and theologically open-minded” contrasts with the stated agenda of its chairman, Roger Hertog, who once said in a speech to the rightist Philanthropy Roundtable: “Unless we populate the humanities with an alternative to the ascendant ideology, conservative ideas about limited government, rule of law, individual liberty and the role of religion will over time lose out.” While the foundation claims to promote “vigorous debate and big arguments,” nearly all of Tikvah’s board members are unabashedly neoconservative.
The late Sanford C. Bernstein, founder of a private investment and wealth management firm that bears his name, founded the Tikvah Fund in 1992 as “a philanthropic foundation and ideas institution committed to supporting the intellectual, religious, and political leaders of the Jewish people and the Jewish State.” Its “animating mission” and “guiding spirit” is the advancement and flourishing of “Jewish excellence.” Bernstein was also an active political funder. During the period 1989-1998, all of his political donations went to Republican candidates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Tikvah was the first and smallest of three distinct foundations to which Bernstein eventually gave most of his fortune, with the intent of nurturing Jewish ideals and sustaining Jewish practice: Tikvah was “the smallest but perhaps the most influential because it focused, under the direction of Roger Hertog (a business associate of Bernstein and himself a savvy philanthropist), on advancing intellectual excellence within traditional Judaism and bringing this wisdom to Jewish leaders.” Tikvah programs emphasize the compatibility of ancient biblical wisdom with muscular foreign policy, libertarianism and capitalism, and “modern Orthodox” Judaism with political conservatism in domestic policy, neo-conservatism in foreign affairs.
When Bernstein died in 1999, his firm managed $80 billion in stock and bonds for individual investors and institutions. In October 2002, Sanford C. Bernstein’s firm was acquired by Alliance Capital, the two merging into AllianceBernstein, which would become AB in 2015. The Weekly Standard’s William Kristol has been a Director of AllianceBernstein since 1994 and is a Director of various Sanford C. Bernstein funds within AB, including its International Portfolio.
Tikvah lists as its primary activity “Publishing and education programs aimed at fostering and enhancing Jewish culture, religion, history, economics, law, social policy and other publishing projects and related activities.” The Tikvah Fund launched Jewish Ideas Daily in early 2010, then replaced it in June 2013 with Mosaic, an online magazine dedicated to “advancing Jewish thought” but whose articles, essays and “specially solicited comments by experts” are predominantly neoconservative. In 2010 Tikvah began publishing The Jewish Review of Books. Tikvah also sponsors The Library of Jewish Ideas, published by the Princeton University Press, and provides funding for the University of Toronto’s annual Journal of Jewish Thought.
Tikvah also publishes Hashiloach, a Hebrew language “bi-monthly collection of long-form quality essays on different policy issues, from economics to strategy and society, along with philosophic accounts of modern culture, Judaism, and Zionism” and Mida, a right-of center Hebrew language “news and intellectual website whose stated aim is to present the public with information and opinions not common in the Israeli media.” Mida’s founding editor, Ran Baratz—a Tikvah faculty member who is Director of the Tikvah Fund’s political thought, economics and strategy program—was tapped to become Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s top media advisor and chief spokesman in November 2015. However, the appointment was suspended after revelations emerged that Baratz had used Mida and Facebook to insult Israel’s president and defense minister and that he had branded U.S. President Barak Obama an “anti-Semite.” Netanyahu suspended Baratz’s appointment but resubmitted it for reconsideration in April 2016 to a state commission charged with vetting appointments to high level public posts.
Through its support of the Shalem Center, a neoconservative-aligned research institute in Israel that has also received funding from casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, Tikvah was “a significant donor” supporting the publication of two now-defunct Shalem journals: Azure: Ideas for the Jewish Nation and Hebraic Political Studies, a peer-reviewed publication evaluating the contribution of Jewish sources to modern political theory. Among the Shalem Center’s best known Fellows have been former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. (2009-2013) Michael Oren, currently a member of the Israeli Knesset from the Kulanu party, and Jewish Agency chair Natan Sharansky, the co-founder of One Jerusalem who first gained international preeminence as a Soviet refusenik.
In 2013, the Shalem Center became Shalem College, recognized as a degree-granting college by Israel’s Council for Higher Education, with Martin Kramer as its president. Kramer, who has been an outspoken critic of how Middle East Studies are taught in U.S. universities, writes frequently for Tikvah publications like Mosaic, Tikvah’s online journal.
Tikvah’s Educational Programs
One key prong in Tikvah’s agenda is to influence academic discourse. According to Tikvah’s 2014 tax statement, the foundation states its primary activity to be “Publishing and education programs aimed at fostering and enhancing Jewish culture, religion, history, economics, law, social policy and other publishing projects and related activities.”
Tikvah seeks out potential young leaders of the Jewish community and recruits them for its own programs such as the two week Tikvah Summer Institute for High School Students at Yale University, Tikvah Fellowships for a 7-week summer program in New York City and one week Tikvah Summer Institutes for university students, graduate students and young professionals. offer generous stipends for participation.
Tikvah’s Advanced Institutes are 5-day programs aimed at “men and women who wish to influence the intellectual, religious, and political life of the Jewish people and the Jewish state,” particularly those pursuing advanced study or working in the fields of US or Israeli public policy, including national security and economics; the rabbinate; academia; journalism; Jewish education and Jewish communal leadership. Participants in the Advanced Institutes receive “a generous stipend that will cover living expenses in New York City or Jerusalem during their time there.”
The Tikvah Overseas Student Institute in Israel offers seminars, workshops and courses to post-high school students from abroad. At these institutes and seminars, an academic blogger named Charles H. Manekin (pen name “Jerry Haber”) pointed out in 2011: “The line-up of speakers reads like a veritable who’s who of Israeli neocon and to the right, with the occasional liberal hawk on board for decoration.”
Besides its own programs for college students and recent graduates, Tikvah supports a host of Israeli educational institutions. Shalem College remains the single largest recipient of Tikvah funds. In 2014, the New York-based Shalem Foundation received more than $3 million from Tikvah. The foundation also provided project funding to the Technion ($30,000) and Bar Ilan University ($20,000). It also provided funding to several college programs in the West Bank settlements, including El Haprat in Kfar Adumim ($446,833), the Ein Prat Leadership Academy ($216,661) in Binyamin, (which publishes Mida), and Herzog College in Alon Shevut ($71,675).
Three of the four Tikvah Fund leadership programs in Israel are located in settlements in the occupied territories, according to Maya Haber, the Director of Development and Programming at Partners for Progressive Israel. Moreover, Haber points out, “Its scholars pump out right-wing talking points and on occasion participate in political academic purges, like the attempt to shut down Ben-Gurion University’s Department of Politics and Government because of its leftist tendencies.”
U.S. and Canadian academic institutions have also been a Tikvah target. According to Zachary Braiterman, the Tikvah Fund is “a veritable micro-cosmos” encompassing autonomous scholarly institutes hosted at major universities. Tikvah provides universities with “faculty fellowship sponsorships, named lectureships, faculty working groups, summer seminars and programs for graduate students, undergraduates, high-school students, as well as rabbis.” Rather than donating buildings, Tikvah funds programs, hosted by university campuses which have no control over their content.
Characterizing the Tikvah Fund’s impact and uniqueness, Braiterman, a professor of religion at Syracuse University, writes: “In the world of Jewish philanthropy, the Tikvah Fund is unique in several respects: (1) its deep neoconservative profile (2) its generous assets estimated at $162,924,801, (3) its serious commitment to Jewish thought and philosophy, (4) the sheer variety and incredible ubiquity of the scholarly and popular platforms it finances, (5) the non-transparence in public mission statements and operating strategies, (6) the cynical use of universities that host its institutional life, and (7) the amount of control it seeks to exercise over a narrow and limiting range of intellectual and ideological content.”
Tikvah’s Board and Faculty
The Chair of Tikvah’s board is Roger Hertog, Bernstein’s business partner and co-founder of AllianceBernstein, which became part of AB in 2015. Hertog, whom Michael Tomasky once characterized as a “velvet conservative,” is also a board member and Chairman Emeritus of theManhattan Institute (currently chaired by Paul Singer); and an emeritus board member of theWashington Institute (WINEP). Hertog has served on the boards of the American Enterprise Institute, the Council on Foreign Relations, as well as journalistic ventures such asCommentary and National Affairs.
Besides Tikvah’s resources, Hertog controls his own foundation, the Roger and Susan Hertog Foundation, whose net assets totaled just over $32 million at the end of 2015. “Two foundations are the means to my philanthropic ends,” Hertog has said. “One is the Tikvah Fund—Tikvah means ‘hope’ in Hebrew—which was funded by my partner Zalman Bernstein, and focuses on bringing the richness of Jewish ideas to the very best young minds; and second is the Hertog Foundation, whose purpose is to bring the very best ideas in defense of Western civilization—especially political and economic thought—to, once again, the very best young people.”
According to Inside Philanthropy’s Guide to the Top Funders in the Financial Industry, the Hertog Foundation has been donating about $10 million annually to support conservative and neoconservative think tanks, institutions and organizations promoting the arts and culture, museums, hospitals and university programs that emphasize the pre-eminence of U.S. power interests in world affairs.
Hertog Foundation grants have supported “Long War University” programs and initiatives at half a dozen universities (including those at Columbia, Duke and Temple have received Hertog Foundation grants), which are loosely modeled on Yale University’s Brady-Johnson Program in Grand Strategy.
Hertog has also helped underwrite neoconservative journalistic endeavors like the now-defunct New York Sun. “Roger thinks of philanthropic endeavors as investments,” Norman Podhoretz, the former Commentary editor and longtime friend of Hertog, observed. “The return he expects is long range.”
Hertog does not favor endowments, saying: “I’m suspicious of support where, once the check is cashed, the donor has little if any influence.” Instead, Hertog seeks to create what he calls “leverage,” arguing: “We look for leverage in almost everything that we do. I don’t mean ‘debt’ in financial terms, but the ability to influence the most important people and places, be they readers of the best books and magazines or the very best students in the very best academic programs.”
“The general strategy is called ‘cream-skimming,’ a term that Hertog learned from [Irving] Kristol,” writes Braiterman, who quotes Hertog: “What it meant to us was trying to attract the very largest customers whose retention would require the least amount of overhead per capita and thereby yield the highest profit margins.” The resultant funding strategy: “Universities and their academic units pay for and provide the facilities, faculty, and students, while the Tikvah Fund and its directors are allowed to establish autonomous institutes within the university in which scholarly content is controlled and leveraged politically, explicitly, or implicitly.”
Echoing the views of other key neoconservative philanthropic figures like the late Michael Joyce—who once described the work of foundations like Bradley and Olin as being engaged in a “war of ideas”—Hertog emphasizes that conservative foundations must influence the “world of ideas.” To this end, his foundations—which include both Tikvah and the Hertog Foundation—seek to have an impact in two broad areas: academia and advocacy. Said Hertog: “If educational programs are the essential long-term investment, think tanks, small magazines, books and other free-standing institutions are the best middle-term investment, especially if the aim is to develop and disseminate ideas. There are many good think tanks and magazines around the country, both left- and right-of-center. They don’t usually have much overhead either. They’re all about ideas.”
Tikvah’s board overlaps with those of other foundations funded by Bernstein’s estate–the Avi Chai Foundation, Keren Keshet (Rainbow Fund) and Nextbook, which promotes Jewish literature and culture through Tablet, its online magazine. Besides serving on Tikvah’s board, Bernstein’s widow, Elaine “Mem” Bernstein, his third wife, is Chair of the Avi Chai Foundation. whose net assets in 2014 totaled over half a billion dollars. She is also a trustee of Keren Keshet (Rainbow Foundation), with net assets of $235 million. Board member, Arthur Fried, who retired from Lehman Bros. to became the CEO of the Rothschild Foundation in 1981, became chairman and CEO of Avi Chai in 1999. Fried became Keren Keshet’s president in 2012. Keren Keshet’s signature project is Nextbook, the ostensible purpose of which is to promote Jewish literature and culture through Tablet, its online magazine. About half of Nextbook’s nearly $5 million annual budget funds Tablet.
Tikvah’s Faculty includes Hertog, Tikvah Fund board members Elliott Abrams, Jay Lefkowitz and Weekly Standard editor William Kristol, who co-edited The Future is Now: American Confronts the New Genetics with Tikvah’s executive director, Eric Cohen in 2002. Almost all maintain multiple affiliations with think tanks such as the Hudson Institute, theAmerican Enterprise Institute (AEI), the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI), the Project for the New American Century, the Gatestone Institute, and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy(WINEP), and most were neoconservative policy advisers during the Reagan and Bush administrations.
Other Tikvah faculty members include John Bolton, Max Boot, Michael Doran, Eric Edelman,Douglas Feith, Robert Kagan, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Joshua Muravchik, Norman Podhoretz, and Paul Wolfowitz. Among the neoconservative journalists on the Tikvah faculty are Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal, syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, and Matthew Continetti of the Washington Free Beacon. Ran Baratz, the founding editor ofMida, is also a member of the Tikvah faculty.
Another member of Tikvah’s visiting faculty, identified as a member of Tikvah’s board in IRS tax documents but not on the Tikvah website’s list of board members, is Sallai Meridor, Israeli Ambassador to the United States from 2005-2009. Meridor was Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel between 1999 and 2005, and is International Chair of the Jerusalem Foundation.
Tikvah and the Media
Another key Tikvah agenda item is to influence mainstream media discourse. The Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens, a member of the Tikvah Fund’s War and Statesmanship faculty, is a good case in point. Stephens is responsible for the newspaper’s international opinion pages and writes its “Global View” column, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2013. He is also a frequent contributor to Fox News’ the “Journal Editorial Report.” Stephens was previously the editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post. In addition to Stephens’ “faculty” role at Tikvah, the foundation has hosted him as a guest speaker, typified by his talk for a small Tikvah audience on March 15, 2015 “The Coming Global Disorder.”
In 2010, Stephens profiled Tikvah’s Roger Hertog for Philanthropy magazine, which is published by the Philanthropy Roundtable. The piece, entitled “The Business of Big Ideas,” was an effusive hagiography of the beneficiaries of Hertog’s largesse. Stephens wrote that “through the Tikvah Fund—a foundation created by his late business partner, Zalman Bernstein, and chaired today by Hertog—he has also given money to an astonishingly wide array of Jewish causes, a law center at New York University, a summer program at Princeton University, and the Shalem Center, an influential think tank in Jerusalem.”
When he published his 2014 book America in Retreat: The New Isolationism and the Coming Global Disorder (Sentinel), Stevens revealed Tikvah’s prominent role in the book’s genesis, marketing, and content. In the book’s acknowledgements, Stephens writes, “In the beginning there was an idea: a book about the future of Israel. To help me think it through, Roger Hertog convened a panel of experts. They quickly helped me realize that what I had in mind would be the wrong book, at the wrong time, by the wrong guy. Right on all counts. I thank Elliott Abrams, Bill Kristol, Neal Kozodoy, Eric Cohen, Suzanne Garment, and Roger himself for steering me away from the shoals.” Stephens notes that his two research assistants also “came my way thanks to the Tikvah Fund.”
Assets and Disbursement of Funding
A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, the Tikvah Fund is classified by the IRS as an educational organization whose purpose is to provide scholarships, student financial aid services, and awards. Tikvah’s net assets totaled over $163 million at the end of 2014. The fair market value of Tikvah’s assets not used or held for use directly in carrying out charitable purposes were listed as 102,255,040. Tikvah’s average monthly cash balance was just over $10 million, of which less than a quarter ($2,395,595) was deemed to be held for charitable activities.
In 2014, Tikvah’s Executive Director Eric Cohen received $365,000 in salary plus benefits. Cohen had received a thirty-year secured loan in 2010 from Tikvah in the amount of $883,850 at an interest rate of 3.87 percent, to be repaid in monthly payments. This was well below the average rate for mortgage loans, which were at an all-time low at the time. Neal Kozodoy, the former chief editor of Commentary (1995-2009), who is now editor of Tikvah’s online magazine Mosaic, received a salary of $250,000 plus benefits. Tikvah’s Director of Israel Programs, Nathan Laufer, received $217,039 plus benefits. Mark Gottlieb, Tikvah’s Senior Director and the Dean of the Tikvah Summer Institute at Yale, received $156,728, plus an expense account of nearly $80,000 in addition to benefits. Most Tikvah Board members receive no compensation, with the exception of William Kristol and Elliott Abrams, who each received $12,000; Jay Lefkowitz and Sallai Meridor were paid $8,000.
In its annual IRS filings, the Tikvah Fund attests that it does not engage in lobbying, and that it does not attempt to “influence any national, state or local legislation.” It also asserts that it does not provide funding “for any purpose other than religious, charitable, scientific, literary, or educational purposes.”
Reprinted, with permission, from Right Web.