Hell hath no fury like a donor scorned.
In recent days, numerous generous supporters have withdrawn or threatened to withdraw financial support from the University of Pennsylvania, where I used to teach. The list includes former U.S. ambassador Jon Huntsman, hedge-fund tycoon Cliff Asness, and Estee Lauder heir Ronald Lauder, to name a few. They’re furious over Penn’s pathetic response to anti-Semitism on campus following Hamas’s barbaric terrorist attack on Israel. The same thing is happening at other prominent schools, especially Harvard.
The donors should be angry, but withholding money won’t make much difference. Donors need to demand concrete reforms—especially rolling back the all-pervasive “diversity, equity, and inclusion” regime that gives cover to and encourages anti-Semites.
I say this as a former associate dean and professor at Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine, where I worked for 53 years, and as a Jewish person. For decades, I saw the hateful shenanigans that are, sadly, endemic to every prestigious university—the constant student protests against Israeli occupation; the fake graves representing dead Palestinians, including terrorists, suddenly appearing on campus overnight; and more.
After DEI took hold at Penn, anti-Semitic fervor on campus intensified. At first glance, DEI seems to have little connection to the Jewish people or the Jewish state. It is more often associated with efforts to recruit more minority students by lowering admissions standards, creating racially discriminatory scholarships, and setting racial quotas. While I witnessed all that and more before my retirement from Penn in 2021, I also came to see that subscribing to DEI almost inevitably resulted in attacking Jews.
True, anti-Semitism existed long before the establishment of the first university DEI office. But this worldview has given anti-Semites a pseudo-intellectual and seemingly moral framework through which to spew their hatred.
At the heart of DEI is a simple binary: the world is divided between oppressors and the oppressed. Proponents of DEI cast white people as oppressors and black people as the oppressed. While they apply this frame primarily to America, they often apply it to Israel, too. Apparently, Israel is a bastion of Jewish whiteness, with a racist commitment to shattering the lives of nonwhite Palestinians. In fact, a colleague of mine—a former collegiate DEI director, no less—was told that Jews are “white oppressors” and that it was her job to “decenter whiteness.”
Hence why the campus groups most associated with DEI are now leading the anti-Semitic charge. A good example is White Coats for Black Lives, which I encountered at Penn’s medical school. The group, which serves effectively as the medical-student offshoot of Black Lives Matter, has as its mission to “dismantle racism and accompanying systems of oppression.” Apparently, that means supporting terrorists who beheaded Jewish babies and raped Jewish women on October 7. In the wake of those atrocities, White Coats for Black Lives proudly declared that it “has long supported Palestine’s struggle for liberation.”
Campus DEI bureaucracies are stoking this hatred, too. In 2021, the Heritage Foundation’s Jay Greene (now a colleague at Do No Harm) looked at the Twitter feeds of nearly 750 DEI officials at 65 U.S. universities and found that 96 percent of their tweets about Israel were critical of the country or anti-Semitic. Many universities have all but muzzled their DEI departments in the past two weeks, doubtless fearing blowback from donors and the broader public. Yet no one should assume that silence suddenly means collegiate DEI departments stand with Israel.
While anti-Semitism won’t go away—it’s been around since time immemorial, after all—removing DEI’s influence is essential to fighting this evil. “You are forcing me to reexamine my financial support absent satisfactory measures to address antisemitism,” Ronald Lauder wrote in his letter to Penn’s president. Donors like him shouldn’t settle for public statements and promises of sensitivity trainings for students or faculty. They should demand the dissolution of the diversity, equity, and inclusion bureaucracies that cultivate and deepen all kinds of racial hatred—including Jew hatred.
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