At the age of 47, Baron Benjamin de Rothschild has put the 4-billion-euro family fortune in the hands of his wife, Baroness Ariane de Rothschild. ‘I think women today are better suited for business than men,’ he says. In an extensive, and rare, interview to Haaretz-The Marker, Baron de Rothschild talks about his brand of Judaism, his distaste for trading gold and his love of speed.
from Haaretz magazine:
q: Baron Benjamin de Rothschild, you are media- and publicity-averse. Why did you agree to this interview?
a: “We are becoming more and more important in the Israeli financial system, and our philanthropic activity in Israel is also growing. So we decided to open ourselves a little bit more to the Israeli public, so we can be better known, if only because my great-grandfather started the country. We would not want people to forget that. Lately I have been gradually transferring to Ariane responsibility and handling of the family’s assets around the world and also in Israel. She is now in charge of the Caesarea Foundation.”
… q: What is the primary mission of the Rothschild family today? To what extent is it preserving the family’s worth and wealth, and to what extent is it using its capabilities for socially responsible activities?
a: “It is a combination of the two, and the proportion changes every day, depending on which area one is talking about. Our philanthropic foundations are one thing; preserving the dynasty is another. I have to be certain that the next generation will also be able to engage in socially responsible activity, which is why I am not doing what my grandfather did. We were the first to launch activity aimed at forging a dialogue between Muslims, Christians and Jews, between imams and rabbis, and it was very successful. We sponsor considerable activity in the areas of social responsibility and environmental quality. We have hospitals, a drug rehab center and we offer scholarships. But we also have a responsibility to pass on to our children more wealth than we received.”
q: What is your philanthropic strategy in Israel?
“The budget is about $16 million a year, and the main goal is education. That is the family’s vision. In my father’s time a large part of the money was earmarked for higher education: We distributed scholarships for study at universities such as INSEAD [“The Business School for the World,” with campuses in France, Abu Dhabi and Singapore and a research center in Israel]. However, today the problem in Israel lies in more basic education, at the primary and high-school levels. The institutions are failing, so we are turning the spotlight on them. We will soon launch a major project called Leadership in which we will make money available to young people but will ask them to give in return – to society – during their studies.”
q: What proportion of your total donations go to Israel?
a: “They constitute a major part. Ten years ago we opened a center for adults in France, which carries a yearly cost. It is not exactly traditional philanthropy, but it is a not-for-profit enterprise.”
q: What about your daughters? Would you want them to marry Jews?
a: “You try telling them what to do… Nowadays it is impossible to force a person to choose a particular partner. It doesn’t work anymore.
And while we are on the subject of religion, let me tell you that the Jewish people made a very serious mistake by turning conversion into such a difficult process. Mathematically, if it goes on like this, the Jewish religion is liable to disappear. If someone wants to convert, let him convert. Don’t make the procedure so complicated that people despair. If you want to become a Muslim it is very simple; if you want to become a Jew it is almost impossible. My mother was converted by a rabbi in Paris but the Orthodox establishment does not recognize her conversion, so that technically I am not a Jew. If so, why do you ask for money from a goy? I think the religious establishment will have to change a great many things in this area, because it’s a matter of survival.”