Robert Kraft halts ties, others reconsidering support for Columbia after antisemitic protests

Investor Leon Cooperman says he hasn't yet decided to stop donations to the university, primarily blames students, not administrators for the problem; Dan Loeb says his hedge fund will look to hire from outside the Ivy League

Robert Kraft, who has given millions to Columbia University, announced he was halting support for his alma mater over its handling of at-times violent, antisemitic student-led protests on the school’s campus in which some faculty members have taken part. Another major Jewish funder, billionaire investor Leon Cooperman, said he was considering the same, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Ari Gross.

However, while Kraft said in a statement that he was “not comfortable supporting the university until corrective action is taken,” he told CNN that he would continue to make donations to the university’s Kraft Center for Jewish Student Life, which was named in his honor after he made a $3 million donation to kick-start its construction in 2000. “That has been a haven of safety,” he said.

Last week, a group of students set up an encampment on the West Lawn of Columbia’s Morningside Heights campus, initially to demand that the school sever its financial and academic ties to Israel. However, the protests quickly intensified and grew violent, with both physical assaults and with antisemitic chants, including calls for Jews to “go back to Poland,” and for “10,000 October 7ths.”

Jewish students told eJP’s sister publication Jewish Insider they were frightened to be on the campus in light of the protest. 

“[Saturday night] was an absolute breaking point and the first time people were truly afraid,” Eliana Goldin, a third-year political science major, told JI. “My friends and I saw [non-Columbia students] sneak onto campus through a gap in the fence and we were verbally harassed, and some of my friends were physically assaulted. Public safety and NYPD did not help us. We were essentially stalked and followed as we tried to leave the escalating situation.”

The extent of the violence and antisemitic rhetoric prompted two public condemnations from the White House, with White House Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates releasing a statement criticizing the “physical intimidation” against Jewish students and calling them “blatantly antisemitic” and “echoing the rhetoric of terrorist organizations.” In his annual Passover greeting to the Jewish community, President Joe Biden alluded to the antisemitism at the university, saying that “even in recent days, we’ve seen harassment and calls for violence against Jews.”

The antisemitic protests at Columbia and at college campuses across the country have prompted condemnations from across the Jewish world, with nearly every national and local Jewish organization issuing statements or penning opinion pieces decrying them, with some going so far as to compare them to the Nazi student protests against Jews of 1930s Germany.

Writing in CNN, Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt called for “every single donor who cares about this issue” to not just halt funding for universities but instead to divert that support to nonprofits that work to protect Jewish students.

“Stopping funds will get attention. Diverting funds to support nonprofit organizations like the Community Security Service that train volunteers to protect Jewish students, or to universities specifically to support the security of Jewish students on campus, could be even more effective,” Greenblatt wrote.

Kraft said that the “turning point” in his decision to halt support for Columbia University was the revocation of assistant professor Shai Davidai’s credentials. Davidai, an outspoken critic of the university’s administrators, had attempted to enter the campus as part of a counter-protest against the encampment.

“Columbia is grateful to Mr. Kraft for his years of generosity and service to Columbia,” a  spokesperson for Columbia said in response to Kraft’s announcement. “This is a time of crisis for many members of our community and we are focused on providing the support they need while keeping our campus safe.”

In October, Cooperman, who has given more than $25 million to Columbia over the years, said he was considering pulling support for the university. When asked this week if he planned to go through with the threat, Cooperman told CNBC that he had not yet decided regarding the university in general but that he did plan to continue supporting Columbia’s business school.

Cooperman put the responsibility for the protests on the students, whom he colorfully said had “shit for brains,” not on the administrators.

“I’m uncomfortable with what’s going on at the school. But you know, I don’t want to hold the administration responsible for demonstrations,” Cooperman continued. “It’s these kids that are out of control.”

Other major funders have refrained from commenting on plans to cut or continue support for the university.

Investor and philanthropist Dan Loeb, another Columbia graduate, told the New York Post that his hedge fund would reconsider hiring graduates of Ivy League universities in light of the protests and antisemitic rhetoric on them.

“We’ve always looked beyond the target schools but we’re doing it even more so now given recent events,” Loeb said.