When Seth and Beth Klarman Give, There are Winners and There are Losers

“One key observation is that society’s problems seem to be compounding as fast or faster than wealth can compound, suggesting a greater urgency to current funding,” said Seth Klarman, founder of the Boston-based investment partnership the Baupost Group, in his recent letter joining The Giving Pledge, explaining the rationale behind his expectation that he and his wife will spend down most of their philanthropic assets in their lifetimes.

There were already signs that the Klarmans, who are currently worth just over a billion dollars, were ramping up their giving prior to the announcement. Just five years ago, the Klarman Family Foundation, which was founded in 1991, had $145 million in assets, and was giving away around $14 million a year. Now, it’s got more than $300 million in assets, and has given away closer to $25 million the last several years. 

Klarman has been pretty specific in the areas he seeks to fund as well—his interest in advancing scientific and medical research focuses particularly on behavioral health, and in his support for the Boston community, he has developed a strategic focus on increasing access to music education. 

He is probably most well known, however, for his support of the Jewish community, and his pro-Israel stances, for which he has received much criticism. The progressive Jewish news outlet Mondoweiss, for example, called him “one of the pro-Israel community’s most prolific financial angels and also one of its most ideologically hardline” for supporting organizations such as The Israel Project, The David Project, and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies—groups that support policies like continued Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory, Palestinian expulsions in occupied East Jerusalem, and maximum sanctions for Iran.

Perhaps even more insidiously, Klarman funds groups that purport to support Palestinian and Muslim rights, but are really just front groups “that advance pro-Israel interests while undermining the objectives of mainstream Muslim and Arab-American organizations,” according to reporter Max Blumenthal, who cites donations to groups such as the American Task Force on Palestine and the American Islamic Congress, and criticizes their policies and practices.

It is almost ironic then that Klarman claims, “It is actually harder to give money away well than it is to generate it in the first place,” in his Giving Pledge letter, while co-authoring an editorial about how Jews around the world are “under siege” by the “Palestinianism” promoted by “a vicious anti-Israel movement,” and simultaneously engaging in a sort of philanthropy that uses wedge politics and supports groups whose agenda may benefit some individuals, but also clearly has winners and losers.