Philanthropic coercion strikes Jewish studies – and the academy at large

Philanthropic coercion strikes Jewish studies – and the academy at large

  • Copy Link URL Copied!

I n the fall of 2019, a prospective donor to my university handed me a list of six demands. The demands were printed on letterhead marked “StandWithUs” – an advocacy organization established in 2001 to support Israel. With close ties to Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it is one of several right-wing pro-Israel organizations that regard university campuses as the front line in a fight against anti-Zionism and the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement.

I was not surprised that StandWithUs would instruct university donors to try to extract promises like the public condemnation of BDS (demand No. 5) or the allowance of the donor’s “personal oversight” over faculty appointments and curricular decisions (demand No. 6).

We’re sorry. Something went wrong.

The most likely cause of this is a content blocker on your computer or network. Please make sure your computer, VPN, or network allows javascript and allows content to be delivered from c950.chronicle and chronicle.blueconic.net.

Once javascript and access to those URLs are allowed, please refresh this page. You may then be asked to log in or create an account if you don’t already have one.

I n the fall of 2019, a prospective donor to my university handed me a list of six demands. The demands were printed on letterhead marked “StandWithUs” – an advocacy organization established in 2001 to support Israel. With close ties to Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it is one of several right-wing pro-Israel organizations that regard university campuses as the front line in a fight against anti-Zionism and the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement.

When Gifts Come With Strings Attached

I was not surprised that StandWithUs would instruct university donors to try to extract promises like the public condemnation of BDS (demand No. 5) or the allowance of the donor’s “personal oversight” over faculty appointments and curricular decisions (demand No. 6). I was surprised, though, that they would show me, a faculty member, their cards – effectively ending the game. “Can I keep this?” I asked, knowing it was the only gift my university could possibly take from them.

Recently, StandWithUs has emerged as a playmaker in reports about the University of Washington’s decision to return an endowment to a displeased donor. Six years ago, Becky Benaroya gave a $5-million gift to endow a chair and program in Israel studies. But after the holder of the chair, Professor Liora Halperin, signed a statement critical of Israel during the conflict with Gaza, Benaroya complained to the university and, eventually, accepted the university’s offer to refund the endowment. A StandWithUs representative accompanied the 99-year-old Benaroya to several high-level meetings with university officials, and the endowment money is reportedly being transferred to StandWithUs.

In the wake of this unusual chain of events and the almost unprecedented decision of a university to respond to donor pressure by returning a completed gift, universities across the country must ask anew: What power should donors have?

The question is not unique to Jewish studies or Israel studies. A flood of gifts from the billionaires Charles and David Koch (David died in 2019) to universities over the last two decades has raised questions about the outsize influence of donors on programs and faculty https://besthookupwebsites.org/flirthookup-review/ appointments – and even given rise to a movement called “UnKoch My Campus.” And Yale University’s Brady-Johnson Program in Grand Strategy made headlines this past fall after its donors demanded more advisory power, leading its faculty director to resign.

But because Jewish studies and Israel studies owe almost the totality of their existence to philanthropic largess from Jewish donors, the matter of donor expectations is especially consequential for these fields. A 2003 study conducted through the Institute for Jewish & Community Research found that a full 61 percent of Jewish donors’ “mega-gifts,” valued at $10 million or more, were directed to higher education. The small fraction of those donations ears has shaped those fields. In 2013, the Association for Jewish Studies reported that North American colleges and universities were home to over 200 Jewish-studies programs or departments and 230 endowed professorships.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.