British Jewish family dissociates from university that honored activist who accused Israel of harvesting Palestinian organs

Family of software firm founder David Goldman removes his name from an endowed chair and professorship

Members of a British Jewish family removed their name from an endowed chair at Newcastle University in northwest England after the school awarded an honorary degree to an activist who repeatedly compared Israel to Nazi Germany and accused the country of harvesting the organs of Palestinian children, both of which are widely considered to be antisemitic tropes.

Comparing Israel to Nazi Germany is specifically included in the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism, which the university has officially adopted, as a likely example of the phenomenon.

While several donors have halted their partnerships with American universities over the administration’s response to antisemitism, the Goldman family appears to be the first to do so in Europe since Oct. 7.

“We are not particularly brave. It’s just what the situation calls for,” Daniel Goldman told eJewishPhilanthropy.

The Community Security Trust, which tracks and works to combat antisemitism in the United Kingdom, has described an “explosion of hatred” against the country’s Jewish community in the past year, particularly since Oct. 7. 

As in North America, much of this has taken place on university campuses, leading the British minister for higher education, Robert Halfon, to declare last month: “I am really worried that some universities are not safe for Jewish students.” Halfon also announced plans to appoint an antisemitism czar for universities.

To honor Goldman’s father, David, a co-founder of U.K.-based software firm Sage Group who died in 1999, the family decided shortly after his death to endow a chair and a visiting professorship at Newcastle University’s business school, in the city where the family lived and where his company was based. 

“This was the community that we loved, so we decided to do something at the local university to memorialize that,” said Goldman, who now lives in Israel.

Last year, Newcastle University decided to award an honorary law doctorate to Shola Mos-Shogbamimu, a prominent British activist on issues related to inequality, for what it described as her “major contribution to race equality, combatting discrimination and promoting diversity and inclusion.” Previously, the university had given this distinction to Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. 

The day before the Dec. 4 award ceremony, Mos-Shogbamimu tweeted a denunciation of Israel, adding, “Just like Nazi Germany, one day justice will be served on it.”

Goldman’s mother, Cynthia Goldman, quickly wrote to the university to lodge a complaint on the grounds that Mos-Shogbamimu’s remark was antisemitic, making it farcical to give her an honorary degree for her work combating racism.

“It is simply impossible to honor someone for anti-racist activism, while – at the very same time – they spread racist views. As the university has acknowledged, antisemitism is a form of racism,” Cynthia wrote in an email.

“We immediately said this is simply in contravention of the IHRA definition of antisemitism, which the university had adopted,” Goldman told eJP. “We went back and forth, and there were a lot of warm words but — bottom line — zero action.”

On Jan. 21, Mos-Shogbamimu again compared Israel to Nazi Germany, accusing it of “harvesting organs from Palestinian children,” another classic antisemitic trope. On Jan. 26, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, she doubled down on her Nazi comparisons, saying that “comparisons of Zionist Israel regime to Nazi Germany regime will be rife” so long as Israel “continues to starve, exterminate, ethnically cleanse, commit genocide, & deprive Palestinians of humanitarian aid & medication.” Earlier that month, Mos-Shogbamimu also denounced the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Museum, calling it “an embarrassment to humanity.”

In response to these repeated remarks, and the university’s unwillingness to retract the honorary doctorate, the family decided to remove its name from the chair and visiting professorship.

“As a family, and with my dad’s name, we couldn’t let this pass without action,” Daniel Goldman said. “If the university cares about antisemitism, it can’t be associated with it.”

Goldman clarified that the family has only removed the name from the chair and professorship — it has not taken legal action to take back the endowment funds. (Goldman did not disclose the size of the endowmen.) He said this was both out of principle and out of an understanding that doing so would require a potentially fruitless legal battle.

“We will always be grateful for their generosity, and remain committed to ensuring that the endowment continues to create opportunities for our students in the spirit in which the donation was made, over 20 years ago,” a spokesperson for Newcastle University told eJP.