Jon Huntsman, the Republican former governor of Utah who served as U.S. ambassador to China under President Barack Obama and to Russia under Donald Trump, said his family will no longer donate to his alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, over its “silence” to the attack by Hamas against Israel last weekend.
Huntsman, the son of the late petrochemical billionaire Jon Huntsman Sr., informed Penn President Liz Magill that his charity, the Huntsman Foundation, will “close its checkbook” on future donations to the school, which in his words has become “almost unrecognizable,” according to the campus newspaper the Daily Pennsylvanian.
“Moral relativism has fueled the university’s race to the bottom and sadly now has reached a point where remaining impartial is no longer an option,” he wrote to Magill on Friday night.
“ ‘Silence is antisemitism, and antisemitism is hate, the very thing higher ed was built to obviate.’ ”
Huntsman blasted the school’s “silence in the face of reprehensible and historic Hamas evil against the people of Israel,” which he termed “a new low.”
He said that “the only response should be outright condemnation.”
“Silence is antisemitism, and antisemitism is hate, the very thing higher ed was built to obviate,” Huntsman wrote in his letter.
In an interview with the cable news channel CNBC, another top donor to Penn, private-equity billionaire Marc Rowan, demanded that Magill and Scott Bok, the chairman of the board of trustees, resign for not forcefully condemning a controversial Palestinian writers festival as well as for delaying an explicit denouncement of Hamas.
Rowan, the CEO of Apollo Global Management and a Wharton grad who has donated $50 million to his alma mater, said that Magill’s behavior is tantamount to an “embrace of antisemitism.”
Magill issued a statement over the weekend acknowledging that the school’s administration “should have moved faster” in disavowing a pro-Palestinian literary festival that was held on campus grounds last month.
“It took less than two weeks to go from the Palestine Writes Literary Festival on UPenn’s campus to the barbaric slaughter and kidnapping of Israelis,” wrote Rowan, who is chairman of the board of advisers at Wharton, Penn’s highly ranked business school.
“President Magill’s allowing of UPenn’s imprimatur to be associated with this conference, and her failure to condemn this hate-filled call for ethnic cleansing, normalized and legitimized violence that ranged from the targeting of Jewish students and spaces here at UPenn to the horrific attacks in Israel,” Rowan wrote.
Some of the speakers at the festival, including outspoken Pink Floyd member Roger Waters, are alleged to have made antisemitic statements in the past.
Waters was banned from the Penn campus and took part in the event by way of Zoom
“I know how painful the presence of these speakers on Penn’s campus was for the Jewish community, especially during the holiest time of the Jewish year, and at a university deeply proud of its long history of being a welcoming place for Jewish people,” Magill said in her email to Penn students and faculty.
“The university did not, and emphatically does not, endorse these speakers or their views. While we did communicate, we should have moved faster to share our position strongly and more broadly with the Penn community.”
Magill also explicitly condemned Hamas for its “terrorist assault” on Israel.
“I want to leave no doubt about where I stand,” Magill said.
“I, and this university, are horrified by and condemn Hamas’s terrorist assault on Israel and their violent atrocities against civilians. There is no justification — none — for these heinous attacks …”
Sunday’s statement from Magill was more forceful than the initial message that was circulated from her office last Tuesday decrying “the horrific assault on Israel.”
“These abhorrent attacks have resulted in the tragic loss of life and escalating violence and unrest in the region,” Magill and Provost John Jackson Jr. wrote in an email to students and faculty members at the Ivy League institution in the Center City section of Philadelphia.
“Many members of our community are hurting right now. Our thoughts are especially with those grieving the loss of loved ones or facing grave uncertainty about the safety of their families and friends.”
Bok released a statement through the university “condemning the horrific atrocities and expressing solidarity with the Jewish community.”
The contretemps at Penn mirrors the turmoil at Ivy rival Harvard, whose campus has been roiled by a letter co-signed by more than two dozen student groups that placed blame on Israel for the Hamas attacks last weekend.
Harvard’s president, Claudine Gay, initially declined to disavow the student groups’ letter.
She was criticized by former Treasury secretary and Harvard alum Larry Summers, himself a Harvard president from 2001 to 2006, for failing to immediately and explicitly condemn Hamas in the days following the slaughter of Israeli civilians after their border towns and kibbutzim were overrun by terrorists who broke through the hardened borders around Gaza.
Another Harvard grad, hedge-fund billionaire Bill Ackman, demanded that the Cambridge, Mass., school release the names of members of the groups that co-signed the letter.
Ackman then enlisted the support of at least a dozen business executives who vowed to never fill job positions within their companies with those whose organizations backed the letter.
Ackman critics characterized him as having proposed a modern-day blacklisting.
Ken Griffin, a Harvard grad who went on to found hedge-fund giant Citadel in Chicago (moving operations last year to Florida), reportedly urged the school to come out more forcefully in defense of Israel following the Hamas attack.
Those defending comments by higher-education administrators and faculty — and student groups in the case of the Harvard letter — observe that there is a substantive difference between backing, for example, a Palestinian right to self-determination and supporting Hamas and its violent actions.
The BBC has apologized for just such a high-profile conflation, initially depicting a pro-Palestine demonstration in London as pro-Hamas, even as Jewish groups assail the U.K. public broadcaster for an apparent hesitance to characterize the multipronged and preplanned Hamas attack on Oct. 7 as terrorism.
From the archives — more on higher-education philanthropy: