Child of Famed Jewish Family Funded Pro-Palestinian Protests

Justin Sullivan/Getty
Justin Sullivan/Getty

Tens of thousands of dollars pumped into organizations involved in recent anti-Israel demonstrations on college campuses originated in the fortune of one of America’s most venerable and politically active Jewish families—one that includes a sitting U.S. congressman and a former contender for ambassador to Jerusalem, and which owes its wealth to the Levi Strauss denim dynasty.

A much-publicized recent report by the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy, an Israeli-backed think tank, ranked the Bafrayung Fund as the single largest sponsor of pro-Palestinian activist groups involved in campus demonstrations and adjacent actions.

The Institute’s tabulations appear to include donations to any organization that has ever supported or promoted pro-Palestinian events. Nonetheless, The Daily Beast’s own research confirms that the Bafrayung Fund, based in Covina, California, ranks among the most consistent supporters of the Palestinian Youth Movement, which played a major role in the rash of encampments that spread through U.S. colleges this year. The Fund has also contributed substantially to two of the Palestinian Youth Movement’s allies: the Arab Resource and Organizing Center and Critical Resistance.

Notably, each of these organizations has employed the controversial slogan “from the river to the sea,” which critics interpret as calling not for two coexisting states between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, but for Israel’s extinction as a polity. Some, including Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), dispute this characterization.

Behind the Bafrayung Fund is a 33-year-old Bay Area resident, Rachel Gelman, scion of the family behind the Levi Strauss company and cousin to Rep. Dan Goldman (D-NY). The money for the Bafrayung Fund comes from just two sources: Gelman herself, and the Morningstar Philanthropic Foundation—the personal charity of her parents, a pair of major Democratic Party donors who own a chain of publications catering to East Coast Jewish communities, have been long active in organizations promoting American-Israeli relations, and even got engaged on a kibbutz.

The thread connecting Rachel Gelman to the congressman and to the clothing empire runs through her mother, Susie Gelman, who President Joe Biden appointed last summer to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom after reportedly considering her previously for U.S. ambassador to Israel. Born Susan Goldman, the elder Ms. Gelman’s grandfather was Walter Haas, the businessman who spun up Levi Strauss from a small San Francisco wholesaler into a global denim brand. Her father, Richard Goldman, was the founder of a major insurance concern and made the Forbes billionaire list a few months before he sold the company in 2001. Her late brother, also Richard, was a federal prosecutor and father to the now-U.S. representative.

The Daily Beast reached out to more than a dozen members of the Gelman, Goldman, and Haas families, none of whom responded to phone calls or text messages. This includes the congressman. Rachel Gelman similarly replied to neither repeated cellphone calls nor an emailed inquiry, though her out-of-office message noted that she is currently on maternity leave.

According to a 2013 profile in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Susie Gelman’s involvement in Jewish issues started early, and she met her husband through a youth group of the organization now called the Jewish Federations of North America, in which both would later hold leadership roles. The couple co-owns the Mid-Atlantic Media Group, which publishes the Baltimore Jewish Times, the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent, and Washington Jewish Week.

The same profile notes that Susie Gelman’s attachment to Israel also began when she was young, as she made her first trip to the Jewish state in 1970, the year she turned 16. Haaretz also recalled that during the Second Intifada of the early 2000s, a wave of violence characterized by suicide bombings targeting Israeli civilians, Gelman found she “could not sit idly by while Israelis were experiencing such trauma” and volunteered at a Jerusalem hospital.

More recently, Susie Gelman served from 2016 through 2023 as chairwoman of the Israel Policy Forum, an organization launched in the 1990s to support Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. Gelman used the platform to criticize Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and elements in his right-wing coalition, to such an extent that Haaretz argued that her appointment as ambassador to Israel would have “sent an undeniable message from the Biden administration” to the current government.

But even amid these tensions with the country’s current leadership, the Gelmans have ranked among the biggest bankrollers of the Birthright Israel Foundation, which sponsors free trips for Jewish young adults to Israel—and which she also once chaired.

Meanwhile, the Gelmans have simultaneously bankrolled the Bafrayung Fund, their daughter Rachel’s charity, pouring in $3,470,000 between 2019 and 2022—the last year for which disclosures are available—all from Morningstar Philanthropic, the same outfit through which the Gelmans support Birthright and the Israel Policy Forum.

Bafrayund has in turn disbursed money to a wide range of left-wing causes, including those tied to pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli activism. That includes $60,000 for the Palestinian Youth Movement—doled out in annual earmarked tranches to the group’s sponsor WESPAC—and $40,000 for the Arab Resource and Organizing Center.

The Palestinian Youth Movement extensively chronicled its involvement in the proliferating campus encampments this spring, including the flagship protest at Columbia University.

Meanwhile, the Arab Resource and Organizing Committee has been active in encampments at state schools near its home base in the Bay Area, including at UC Berkeley and, most recently, UC San Francisco.

The Palestinian Youth Movement and the Arab Resource and Organizing Committee were also both listed among the “convening organizations” behind the People’s Conference for Palestine held in Detroit this past weekend, where Rep. Tlaib attacked Biden as an “enabler” of Netanyahu.

The Bafrayung Fund has also given $298,000 to Critical Resistance, which launched primarily as a prison abolition organization, but more recently has participated in multiple pro-Palestinian events in conjunction with the Palestinian Youth Movement and AROC—including protests that temporarily paralyzed San Francisco Airport, the Bay Bridge, and the Port of Oakland.

A review of Federal Election Commission records reveals Rachel Gelman’s political giving departs greatly from that of her parents. Susie and Michael Gelman are major contributors to Democratic politicians, having donated more than $800,000 to committees supporting Biden’s re-election.

The duo posed for a photo outside the White House in April:

Other politicians to receive hefty gifts from the Gelmans this cycle include House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, Rep. Nancy Pelosi—and their nephew, Rep. Dan Goldman, to whose committees they have contributed $23,200.

Rachel Gelman, by contrast, has given nothing to her cousin, but has kicked thousands to two of his left-wing colleagues: Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), both Israel critics.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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