The Jewish National Fund’s explanation of why its CEO is returning a $525,000 loan he took from the organization omits the key fact that the New York State Attorney General demanded he repay the money.
Instead, in an August 2 email to a concerned donor, JNF claimed that its CEO and the CFO, who also received a loan, are “voluntarily” paying back the money within 30 days.
In late July, the Forward reported that the JNF had apparently broken New York law by making home loans to Russell Robinson, the CEO, and Mitchel Rosenzweig, the CFO.
Following an inquiry from the Forward, the Attorney General’s office sent a letter to the JNF demanding that Robinson and Rosenzweig pay back the loans by the end of 2017. The JNF announced days later that the men would repay the loans within 30 days.
Now, in the email to a concerned donor obtained by the Forward, the JNF is telling a version of the story that entirely leaves out the demand issued by the office of New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
Sent by a “donor relations representative” to a donor who has supported the JNF since the 1940s, the letter claims that Robinson and Rosenzweig chose to return the loans following the publication of an “inaccurate news story” in the Forward.
The JNF has not contacted the Forward since the story’s publication to identify any inaccuracy or to request a correction.
“Russell and Mitchel feel terrible about the negative media coverage, and as a result have voluntarily offered to liquidate the balance of their loans within 30 days,” the letter read. “We appreciate and applaud their gesture.”
There is no mention of the Attorney General’s letter.
“I’m not giving them any more money,” Steve Goldberg, the longtime donor who received the email, told the Forward. “They have too much money for my liking, when they can afford to buy themselves homes in Florida with our money.”
The JNF said that it had made the loans to Robinson and Rosenzweig to “facilitate the purchase of real estate.” Rosenzweig bought a home in Delray Beach, Florida, in 2016.
“I think they’re just trying to get around it by not telling us the truth,” Goldberg said of the JNF’s email to him. “It was a very long answer… No substance in it.”
Its letter to Goldberg, the JNF asserted that the loans had been appropriate.
“The loans had been authorized by the President and the Chairman of our board as part of JNF’s segregated investment funds, and were reported as required on both federal and state financial filings,” the letter reads. “We know nothing improper took place. In hindsight we could have handled things differently.”
Asked to confirm the email, JNF spokesman Adam Brill instead lashed out at the Forward.
“Please confirm you’re calling donors and harassing them,” Brill wrote.
Brill was apparently referring to ongoing reporting being conducted by the Forward for a story, posted online Thursday, about the American JNF essentially cutting off funding to the JNF in Israel. The Forward had contacted a small number of major JNF donors to ask whether they were aware of the change.
Last week, in comments to New York Jewish Life, Brill accused the Forward of being on a “witch hunt.”
The text of the letter to the donor is below:
Last week an inaccurate news story appeared in the Forward, which claimed that Jewish National Fund issued improper loans to our Chief Executive Officer and Chief Financial Officer. The loans had been authorized by the President and the Chairman of our board as part of JNF’s segregated investment funds, and were reported as required on both federal and state financial filings. We know nothing improper took place. In hindsight we could have handled things differently. Both Russell F. Robinson and Mitchel Rosenzweig have worked hard for 20 years to make Jewish National Fund the organization it is and have performed with the utmost of integrity, honor, and tireless dedication. Russell and Mitchel feel terrible about the negative media coverage, and as a result have voluntarily offered to liquidate the balance of their loans within 30 days. We appreciate and applaud their gesture. Jewish National Fund is making great strides toward reaching the vision and goals we set out to accomplish in our Billion Dollar Roadmap for the Next Decade. We will go on with our important work and put this matter behind us.
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.