Wexner Foundation: We paid Barak $2.3 million for 2 reports; 1 wasn’t finished

Foundation reveals details of payment to former premier, which has been subject of right-wing conspiracy theories; denies Jeffrey Epstein was involved in decision-making

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

Ehud Barak during a press conference in Tel Aviv on July 25, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Ehud Barak during a press conference in Tel Aviv on July 25, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The Wexner Foundation on Thursday issued a statement clarifying its relationship with US financier and convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, as well as its relationship with former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak, revealing the nature of a $2.3 million payment it made to Barak that has long been the subject of right-wing conspiracy theories.

In a Hebrew-language statement, the foundation distanced itself from Epstein — saying he had never donated to the foundation or been involved in its decision-making — and said Barak had been paid the sum between 2004 and 2006 in exchange for two lengthy studies, one on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the other on leadership.

Barak only completed one of those papers, but the foundation said it had decided at the time that the work it had received was sufficient to justify the paid sum.

The Wexner Foundation is the family foundation of Leslie Wexner, who is the founder and chairman of L Brands, the parent company of Victoria’s Secret.

Leslie Wexner, at the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio, on September 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete, File)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others on the right have long questioned Barak’s relation with Epstein, who committed suicide last year while awaiting trial on a series of sex trafficking offenses involving minors committed in the 1990s and early 2000s.

They have accused the Wexner Foundation of using its prestigious leadership program — attended over the years by many top Israeli officials — to influence them with an alleged left-wing agenda.

Barak, a center-left politician who previously served as the IDF chief of staff, was prime minister in 1999-2001 and head of the Labor party. After leaving office, he quit politics and returned years later, serving as defense minister under Netanyahu, before leaving for a second time in 2013.

He attempted to make a political comeback last year, running in the September 2019 Knesset elections as part of the left-wing Democratic Camp alliance, which included the Labor and Meretz parties. He failed to make it into the Knesset.

On the campaign trail, Netanyahu capitalized on a photo published by the Daily Mail showing Barak entering Epstein’s estate in New York City in 2016, claiming he had attended a party alongside young women. Epstein accuser Virginia Roberts Giuffre has reportedly named Barak as one of the people with whom the US financier forced her to have sex when she was underage.

Netanyahu had focused on the $2.3 million payment, releasing a campaign video titled “What else has sex offender Epstein given to Barak?”

The video claimed that Epstein manages the Wexner Foundation. Forbes had said he served as a trustee and a spokesperson for the institution, but the a spokesperson for Les Wexner told the financial news outlet at the time that he had severed ties with Epstein over a decade earlier.

The video focused on Barak’s longtime refusal to fully address the nature of the payment.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-defense minister Ehud Barak attend a press conference at the PM’s office in Jerusalem, on November 21, 2012. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

In its Thursday statement, the foundation said it was responding to “false and/or tendentious reports in Israeli media outlets provided by interested parties seeking to harm the program.”

That was an apparent reference to a Channel 12 exposé due to air over the weekend on the matter. In a preview published Thursday, the network said the investigation would reveal details of Barak’s deal with the Wexner Foundation.

In an apparent attempt to preempt that report, the foundation said in the statement that at the time, “Barak had been a private citizen who had quit public service,” and “the foundation saw a unique opportunity to employ him” and commission the two research papers for use in its leadership program.

“Mr. Barak conducted and completed a 267-page study on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that was handed to the foundation as planned,” the statement said.

“As for the second part of the paper, dealing with the subject of leadership, research had been done and the foundation received an abstract, but did not receive a full paper,” it added.

“The foundation’s management at the time (close to 15 years ago), after discussing and considering the matter, decided that the work done and material received was enough to end the project and justify the payment,” it said.

Channel 12 said Barak hadn’t completed the second paper due to his return to politics in 2007. It said Barak hadn’t offered to return parts of the sum he received.

Jeffrey Epstein, on March 28, 2017. (New York State Sex Offender Registry via AP, File)

Regarding Epstein, the foundation said it had commissioned an independent probe of the matter conducted by the Kegler Brown Hill + Ritter law firm which “determined clearly and unequivocally that his only involvement in the foundation had been in an administrative capacity between 1992 and 2007, until he was fired by the Wexner family when the first pedophilia suspicions came to light.

“Epstein’s job was limited to dealing with documents and reports related to transferring the Wexner family’s monetary support to the foundation,” the statement said.

“Epstein didn’t found the foundation and was never involved in determining its policy,” it stated. “Epstein never had a role in leading the foundation and its activity. He had no involvement in recruiting, screening or selecting participants in the foundation’s programs at Harvard University or anywhere else.”

Epstein “never donated a single dollar to the foundation,” the statement stressed. “Members of the foundation’s management don’t recall Epstein ever being seen at the foundation’s offices or at any of its events.”

“We wish to put an end to ugly insinuations, speculations and rumors aimed at tarnishing the foundation’s name without justification,” it concluded.

A spokesperson for Barak commented: “During the relevant time, Barak dealt with research and consulting for many bodies as a private person. The content of his work is their property and he has no option to comment further.

“It is now clear to anyone that the bribery and criminal libel Netanyahu’s followers had tried to stick to Barak is smashing to smithereens. Again, a desperate attempt by Likud to tarnish Barak — a fierce critic of Netanyahu — with false accusations has failed.”

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