Len Blavatnik pulls donations from Harvard over failure to address antisemitism

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Len Blavatnik pulls donations from Harvard over failure to address antisemitism

The family foundation has given at least £212m to the university over the years, including about £150m to Harvard’s medical school

Claudine Gay, president of Harvard University, testifies before the House Education and Workforce Committee on December 5, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
Claudine Gay, president of Harvard University, testifies before the House Education and Workforce Committee on December 5, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Billionaire businessman Sir Len Blavatnik and his family foundation have suspended donations to Harvard over its handling of antisemitism on campus. 

The Jewish businessman is the latest in a string of heavyweights to pause donations to the Ivy League university following its alleged failure to condemn the massacre of Israelis by Hamas terrorists.

Earlier this month, Harvard’s board of directors voted to keep Claudine Gay as the school’s president despite pressure to force her out after she declined to say outright that calls for the genocide of Jews violated campus rules.

Gay had appeared alongside University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill — and with the president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology —  where they were asked whether “calls for the genocide of Jews” would violate their schools’ codes of conduct. All replied that it depended on context. Magill has since resigned.

Blavatnik’s family foundation has given at least $270m to Harvard over the years, including about $200m for Harvard’s medical school.

Sir Len Blavatnik and his wife Emily are pausing donation to Harvard over antisemitism claims









According to Bloomberg, Blavatnik, a Harvard Business School alumnus, and his wife Emily are holding back donations until the university tackles what they see as rampant antisemitism on campus.

They also expect antisemitic acts to be treated no differently from affronts to other communities.

Ukrainian-born Blavatnik is the founder of Access Industries, the US-based global investment firm. As of October 2023, Forbes estimated his net worth at $29.6bn.

Shortly after the war broke out, former Victoria’s Secret CEO Les Wexner, whose foundation had given millions to Harvard over 34 years, cut ties with the university, but the backlash against Harvard has ramped up following Gay’s testimony, with billionaire hedge funder Bill Ackman – also a business school alumnus – repeatedly speaking out against the Ivy League.

The US government is also said to be considering ways to cut federal support from the institution, and the continued exodus of alumni donors like Blavatnik will further threaten its financial footing.

David Bergeron, a retired deputy assistant secretary in the US Education Department, said: “The problem Harvard has is that all their sources of revenue are strained.

“Their ability to raise money is clearly strained and their ability to leverage federal programs is potentially at risk.”

Meanwhile, Gay is under mounting scrutiny over allegations that she plagiarised in her academic work, and both she and the university’s board are facing pressure to resign in the wake of the antisemitism furore.

Posting on X on Sunday, Bill Ackman said he had heard from a “reliable source” that the @Harvard Corporation has asked President Gay to resign and she has refused.

“Gay has apparently said that if she is fired, she will sue. Gay has retained her own counsel. I can’t 100% confirm the above is true, but if it is, I am sure the Board is concerned about what may emerge in legal discovery in the event of litigation.

“At this point, however, what choice does the Board have? If the Board makes an inappropriate deal on severance or gives Gay a guaranteed position at Harvard, it will look like a payoff to keep her quiet. I can’t see how she stays at Harvard in any capacity. President Gay’s performance and her academic record issues provide plenty of cause for termination without compensation. But at every step so far, the Board has made the wrong call and dug a deeper hole for themselves and Harvard. As we all know, the best time to start making good decisions is now. The sooner Gay is gone, the sooner repairing the damage can begin.”


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