Billionaire Ronald Lauder threatens to pull funding if UPenn doesn’t do more to fight antisemitism

Oct 18, 2023, 6:00 AM

Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, and a powerful financial backer of the Unive...

Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, and a powerful financial backer of the University of Pennsylvania, is threatening to cut off donations if the school doesn’t do more to fight antisemitism, CNN has learned. (Michael Kappeler/dpa/picture alliance/Getty Images)

(Michael Kappeler/dpa/picture alliance/Getty Images)

New York (CNN) — Billionaire Ronald Lauder, a powerful financial backer of the University of Pennsylvania, is threatening to cut off donations if the school doesn’t do more to fight antisemitism, CNN has learned.

The threat from Lauder, one of the heirs to the Estee Lauder cosmetics company, marks the latest fallout from donors and alumni alarmed by a Palestinian literary festival that was held on campus last month prior to the Hamas terror attacks on Israel.

Even before the Palestine Writes Literature Festival started, UPenn leaders acknowledged it would include speakers with a history of making antisemitic remarks.

“The conference has put a deep stain on Penn’s reputation that will take a long time to repair,” Lauder wrote to UPenn President Liz Magill on Monday in a letter obtained by CNN.

“You are forcing me to reexamine my financial support absent satisfactory measures to address antisemitism at the university,” Lauder wrote.

The Palestine Writes festival has created a backlash that prominent donors, including billionaire Marc Rowan and former US Ambassador Jon Huntsman, who have vowed to cut off funding. Rowan called for Magill to resign and trustee Vahan Gureghian did step down late last week.

Lauder said he had two people taking photos at the Palestine Writes festival and two more who listened to the speakers, who were “antisemitic and viscerally anti-Israel.”

Organizers of the Palestine Writes festival denied that it embraced antisemitism, according to UPenn student newspaper The Daily Pennsylvanian.

“Alumni are important members of the Penn community. I hear their anger, pain, and frustration and am taking action to make clear that I stand, and Penn stands, emphatically against the terrorist attacks by Hamas in Israel and against antisemitism,” Magill said in a statement on Tuesday.

“As a University, we support and encourage the free exchange of ideas, along with a commitment to the safety and security of our community and the values we share and work to advance,” Magill said. “Penn has a moral responsibility to combat antisemitism and to educate our community to recognize and reject hate in all its forms. I’ve said we should have communicated faster and more broadly about where we stand, but let there be no doubt that we are steadfast in our beliefs.”

Lauder, whose fortune is estimated at $4.6 billion, according to Forbes, serves as president of the World Jewish Congress, an organization that aims to protect Jewish communities around the world from discrimination.

“I have spent the past 40 years of my life fighting antisemitism around the world and I never, in my wildest imagination, thought I would have to fight it at my university, my alma mater and my family’s alma mater,” Lauder wrote in the letter.

Lauder, who served as the US ambassador to Austria in the 1980s, graduated from UPenn and helped start The Lauder Institute, a Wharton business program named after his father.

Lauder said he made a “special trip” to Philadelphia to meet with Magill and persuade her to cancel the Palestine Writes festival and made two subsequent phone calls in that effort.

“The timing of this event could not have possibly been worse,” he wrote.

In his letter, Lauder argued the organizers of the event came “almost exclusively” from the Department of Arts and Sciences and demanded action be taken.

“Let me be as clear as I can: I do not want any of the students at The Lauder Institute, the best and brightest at your university, to be taught by any of the instructors who were involved or supported this event,” Lauder wrote. “We know who they are and what they did.”

Magill, UPenn’s president, conceded over the weekend that the response to the Palestine Writes Literature Festival was inadequate.

“While we did communicate, we should have moved faster to share our position strongly and more broadly with the Penn community,” Magill said in a statement Sunday.

The UPenn leader said she knows how “painful the presence of these speakers” on campus was for the Jewish community, especially during the holiest time of the Jewish year.

“The University did not, and emphatically does not, endorse these speakers or their views,” Magill said.

“I want to leave no doubt about where I stand. I, and this University, are horrified by and condemn Hamas’s terrorist assault on Israel and their violent atrocities against civilians,” Magill said. “There is no justification — none — for these heinous attacks, which have consumed the region and are inciting violence in other parts of the world.”

Palestine Writes describes itself as the “only North American literature festival dedicated to celebrating and promoting cultural productions of Palestinian writers and artists.”

One organizer told CNN the festival was meant to celebrate Palestinian culture and literature.

“We wanted to honor our ancestors, celebrate our heritage. Discuss our books, talk about our predicament. Talk about resistance, talk about politics and power and culture and song and books and food and all of these things,” Susan Abulhawa, executive director of the Palestine Writes Literature Festival, told CNN.

Abulhawa, an author who isn’t affiliated with UPenn, described the event as “glorious” and “so beautiful people were in tears.”

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.


Passenger climbs on to Southwest Airlines wing...

Shawn Nottingham, CNN

A Southwest Airlines passenger opened an emergency exit and climbed onto a plane’s wing while the aircraft was at the gate

Police responded to a disturbance on Southwest Airlines plane in New Orleans when a passenger climbed on to the plane's wing.

1 day ago

Young Thug trial...

Christina Maxouris, CNN

Prosecutor says Young Thug was ‘proclaimed leader’ of violent street gang at racketeering trial openings

Prosecutors accused Young Thug of leading a gang that committed murder & a slew of violent crimes during his his racketeering trial.

2 days ago

Tesla CEO Elon Musk and his security detail depart the company's local office in Washington, U.S. J...

Oliver Darcy, CNN

Major brands are not only pausing ads on Elon Musk’s X. They’re stepping away from the platform altogether

A number of media brands have not only paused their paid marketing campaigns on Elon Musk's X but have ceased posting on it altogether.

2 days ago

Palestinians walk through damaged buildings in Gaza City....

Mostafa Salem, CNN

Deal reached to extend Israel-Hamas truce by two days, Qatar says

Qatar says, deal reached to extend Israel-Hamas truce by two days.

2 days ago

Marty Krofft, a legendary figure often referred to as the “King of Saturday Mornings," died Satur...

Sharif Paget and Aya Elamroussi, CNN

Marty Krofft, co-creator of hit kids’ TV shows, dies of kidney failure at 86

Marty Krofft, a legendary figure often referred to as the “King of Saturday Mornings," died Saturday in Los Angeles.

3 days ago

Meta has been collecting the personal information of children without their parents’ consent. (Th...

Eva Rothenberg, CNN

Meta collected children’s data from Instagram accounts, unsealed court document alleges

A newly unsealed court document reveals that Meta has been collecting children's data without their parents’ consent.

3 days ago

Sponsored Articles

front of the Butch Cassidy museum with a man in a cowboy hat standing in the doorway...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Looking Back: The History of Bear Lake

The history of Bear Lake is full of fascinating stories. At over 250,000 years old, the lake has seen generations of people visit its shores.

silhouette of a family looking over a lake with a bird in the top corner flying...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

8 Fun Activities To Do in Bear Lake Without Getting in the Water

Bear Lake offers plenty of activities for the whole family to enjoy without having to get in the water. Catch 8 of our favorite activities.

Wellsville Mountains in the spring with a pond in the foreground...

Wasatch Property Management

Advantages of Renting Over Owning a Home

Renting allows you to enjoy luxury amenities and low maintenance without the long-term commitment and responsibilities of owning a home.

Clouds over a red rock vista in Hurricane, Utah...

Wasatch Property Management

Why Southern Utah is a Retirement Paradise

Retirement in southern Utah offers plenty of cultural and recreational opportunities. Find out all that this region has to offer.

Human hand holding a protest banner stop vaping message over a crowded street background....

Prosperous Utah Communities

Utah’s Battle to Protect Youth from Vaping Epidemic Faces New Threat as Proposed Rule Threatens Progress

Utah's strict standards of nicotine levels in vaping products are at risk, increasing health hazards associated with use. Read more about how you can advocate for a better future for Utah's youth.

Aerial photo of Bear Lake shoreline with canopies and people camped out on the beach...

Visit Bear Lake

Last-Minute Summer Vacation Planning? Check Out Bear Lake!

Bear Lake is the perfect getaway if you are last-minute summer vacation planning. Enjoy activities with your whole family at this iconic lake.

Billionaire Ronald Lauder threatens to pull funding if UPenn doesn’t do more to fight antisemitism