Guardian cites role of ‘Jewish donors’ in Harvard president’s resignation

On Jan. 2, Claudine Gay resigned as president of Harvard University amidst mounting evidence that she committed plagiarism throughout her academic career, and in the aftermath of her damaging testimony to Congress last month, where she refused to say whether calling for the genocide of Jews would violate the school’s code of conduct.  Gay, the first Black person to lead Harvard, will continue to work as a professor at the university.

The Congressional hearing in question, which also included the testimony of University of Pennsylvania president Liz Magill, a white woman, who also wouldn’t say if calling for Jewish genocide violated university rules, and who resigned shortly thereafter, was held in response to a surge in antisemitism at these campuses following the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre.  The discrimination against Jews at Harvard made national headlines, and prompted an official investigation by the US Department of Education.

Within twenty-four hours of Gay’s announcement, the Guardian found the culprit responsible for her resignation: not her reported plagiarism or the antisemitism on her campus, but, rather, wealthy Jewish donors.

The op-ed, (“Powerful donors managed to push out Harvard’s Claudine Gay. But at what cost?”, Jan. 3), was written by frequent Guardian contributor Robert Reich, a former US Labour Secretary and currently a professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

After claiming that he’s not in a position to comment on the dozens of plagiarism allegations, Reich gets to the heart of his argument, writing that the particularly troubling aspect of Gay and McGill’s resignation concerns the clout of wealthy alumni, who were angry with both presidents for “not coming out more clearly against Hamas and in defense of Israel”.  He then proceeds to list a few such alumni and donors who, he claims, called for their resignation.  Three of those he named, including Bill Ackman (an alumni and former donor, but not a Board member), are Jewish.

Ackman was reported to have made a donation to Harvard was $25 million.  To put that into context, Harvard’s overall assets are $51 billion.  So, though the hedge fund manager has been extremely vocal over the Gay controversy, his influence appears to have been minimal.

Moreover, as even a detailed piece on Gay’s resignation in the NY Times makes clear, “For weeks the [Harvard] board had stood by its embattled president as she dealt with withering criticism of her tepid response to antisemitism on campus, her disastrous testimony before a House panel and mounting allegations of plagiarism in her academic work”, noting a Dec. 12 statement by the corporation expressing support for Gay.

It wasn’t until Dec. 19, when “new allegations of more than 40 examples of plagiarism in Dr. Gay’s academic work emerged”, that the sentiments of the Board began to change, purportedly, according to the NYT, due to the influence of Timothy R. Barakett, Harvard’s treasurer, as well as Board member Paul J. Finnegan.  A Wall Street Journal article also cited the influence of Tracy Palandjian, a member of the Harvard Corporation. None of these three are Jewish.

Though the religious affiliation of Board members, donors and alumni who sought Gay’s resignation shouldn’t matter, the timeline of the Board’s changing views on whether Gay should remain president, as well as the religious background of those who influenced the Board’s evolving views, undermines Reich’s suggestion that she was forced out due to Jewish Harvard influencers upset about her position on Israel.

This fact is even more pertinent given how Reich ends his Guardian piece:

…until now have major donors so brazenly used their financial influence to hound presidents out of office for failing to come out as clearly as the donors would like on an issue of campus speech or expression.

As a Jew, I also cannot help but worry that the actions of these donors – many of them Jewish, many from Wall Street – could fuel the very antisemitism they claim to oppose, based on the age-old stereotype of wealthy Jewish bankers controlling the world.

Reich’s wording is curious to say the least.

He purports to oppose the antisemitic stereotype of “wealthy Jewish bankers controlling the world” while simultaneously going out of his way to highlight the Jewish background of a few Harvard Board members, alumni or donors who he claims (falsely) were instrumental in bringing down Gay.  But, even if “many” of the donors instrumental in Gay’s resignation were “Jewish”, why would that matter?

One of the most fundamental truths about antisemitism is that Jewish behavior doesn’t cause antisemitism – just as, for example, white racism towards Black Americans isn’t caused by Black behavior.  It’s a shame that this even needs to be stated, but anti-Semites – and anti-Semites alone – are responsible for their racist attitudes towards Jews, even if they’re ‘wealthy Jewish donors’.

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  1. says: Michael Vaar

    “As a Jew, I also cannot help but worry that the actions of these donors…”
    It’s high time we acknowledged that in addition to Orthodox, Reform and Liberal Judaism, there is also now Asajudaism.

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