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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, June 16, 2024

Elite universities don’t condemn hate speech and face the financial consequences

Ivy League universities are refusing to denounce pro-Hamas speech — and their donors are noticing.


A pro-Palestine rally is pictured.

In the wake of Hamas’ attack on Israel, tensions have been rising on U.S. college campuses. At Tulane, pro-Israel and pro-Palestine protestors, who were initially peaceful, devolved into violence and threw punches just a few days ago. An Israeli student was allegedly assaulted at Columbia where, days later, many students staged a walkout in support of Palestine and against Israel’s so-called genocide. Similar walkouts occurred at Harvard, Princeton and NYU, as well as here at Tufts. 

People hold a variety of opinions about what these students are fighting for. That said, we have to distinguish between disagreement and factual truth — case in point, the false claim that Israel is an apartheid state. This could not be further from the truth. According to the Anti-Defamation League, “within Israel, there are safeguards aimed at ensuring the equal treatment of all citizens, Jewish or Arab.” Furthermore, Richard Goldstone, a South African judge and critic of Israeli policies, noted that Israeli Arabs comprise 20% of the country’s population, have political representation in the Knesset and hold acclaimed positions on the Supreme Court. “Those who conflate the situations in Israel and the West Bank and liken both to the old South Africa,” Goldstone wrote in an op-ed, “do a disservice to all who hope for justice and peace.” Daniel Kurtzer, former U.S. ambassador to Egypt and Israel, and Aaron Miller, former state department Middle East analyst, additionally argue that continually injecting the apartheid narrative into conversations will make it much more difficult to generate necessary change. Invoking terminology associated with a horrific racism-based regime to describe Israel not only promotes a false narrative but also unnecessarily increases tensions.

And yet, students at elite universities in the U.S. subscribe to false stories of Israelis committing crimes against humanity and have praised Hamas-led surprise attacks despite the fact that the U.S. government has considered Hamas a Foreign Terrorist Organization since 1997. In its foundational documents, Hamas calls for jihad as a means of solving the Palestinian question and the annihilation of the Jewish people. This doctrine is horrible to even read, and yet thousands of college students are ditching classes and flocking to the streets, shouting “from the river to the sea,” a term that often implies the eradication of the state of Israel. Many colleges and universities in the U.S. have done little to condemn the actions of these students. Free speech is free speech, but to not speak out against Hamas is morally wrong. And many prominent alumni are making their points of view known in a major way.

Donors to top universities are furious at how their alma maters have handled the current situation. They have begun to pull their funding, a move that has rippled its way throughout the Ivy League. Hedge fund billionaire Leon Cooperman blasted Columbia students and the university as a whole for its sub-par response to the attack by Hamas, asserting that protesting Columbia students “have s--- for brains.” He further said that he would stop donating to his alma mater “unless they change their behavior.” The Wexner Foundation, founded by Leslie Wexner, former CEO of Victoria’s Secret, and his wife, Abigail S. Koppel, said it is severing all ties with Harvard following the school’s “dismal failure … to take a clear and unequivocal stand against the barbaric murders of innocent Israeli civilians.” Marc Rowan, CEO of Apollo Global Management and a Wharton alumnus, has professed a similar message, slamming the University of Pennsylvania’s response to incidents of antisemitism and calling on all donors to close their checkbooks.

The decision by these schools, and many others, to comment insufficiently on the situation in Israel and/or fail to shut down student-led misinformation will have drastic ramifications. I believe Rowan’s appeal to his fellow donors will be answered, and schools like UPenn will struggle to secure new financial contributions. Sara Harberson, former associate dean of admissions at UPenn, said that big donors’ cutting ties might also persuade smaller donors to stop contributing, a move that would harm alumni relations, affect admissions and put pressure on the president and members of the board. While schools with substantial financial resources, like UPenn, can survive without donations for a while, smaller private and state schools are not necessarily in the same position. Where does Tufts factor into all of this?

One does not often see this level of disagreement between elite colleges and the U.S. government. I don’t know what will come of this: The universities I have mentioned above all have sizable endowments that will enable them to survive without major funding for the near term. Harvard’s is over $50 billion, and UPenn’s is $21 billion. They can afford to make a few mistakes. But Tufts can’t; its endowment is a fraction of UPenn’s at $2.4 billion.

By producing below-par statements that have failed to accurately capture the nature of the conflict, Tufts, Harvard, UPenn, Columbia and others are risking their reputations. If a four-year education from any of these elite universities results in students spewing falsehood after falsehood, potential applicants will be driven away as will potential and existing donors. Tufts needs to be more rigorous in condemning pro-Hamas speech and protests for the sake of its reputation and financial security.