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Israel Gaza war: UPenn loses $100m donation after House antisemitism testimony

A major University of Pennsylvania donor has withdrawn a $100m (£79.3m) grant after a controversial appearance in congress by the school’s president.

In an email seen by the BBC, Ross Stevens said he was “appalled” Elizabeth Magill avoided questions about how students calling for the genocide of Jews would be punished.

She was grilled by politicians on Tuesday about antisemitism on campus.

Ms Magill has since apologised, but her remarks have led to resignation calls.

US college campuses have seen angry protests and rising incidents of antisemitism since the war between Israel and Hamas erupted two months ago.

Ms Magill appeared in the House of Representatives alongside the presidents of Harvard and MIT, Claudine Gay and Sally Kornbluth.

They were asked by Republican New York congresswoman Elise Stefanik: “Does calling for the genocide of Jews violate [your university’s] code of conduct or rules regarding bullying and harassment? Yes or no?

 

Ms Magill and her MIT and Harvard counterparts did not reply yes or no but said – in varying ways – that it depended on the “context”.

There has been a widespread backlash since, with the White House condemning the remarks.

In his message about the withdrawal of the donation, Mr Stevens said: “I have clear grounds to rescind Penn’s $100 million of Stone Ridge shares due to the conduct of President Magill.”

The founder and CEO of Stone Ridge Asset Management, he told the university that its “permissive approach” to those calling for violence against Jewish people “would violate any policies or rules that prohibit harassment and discrimination based on religion, including those of Stone Ridge”.

Penn is one of the oldest universities in the US and a part of the elite Ivy League group, which also has Harvard, Columbia and Yale as members.

The university in Philadelphia is also home to one of the world’s most prestigious business schools, Wharton, which counts former US President Donald Trump, Tesla and SpaceX billionaire Elon Musk, and many other powerful names in business and finance among its graduates.

 

The donation, in the form of limited partnership units in Stone Ridge, was gifted by Mr Stevens in 2017 to help Wharton create a finance innovation centre.

 

University of Pennsylvania President Liz MagillIMAGE SOURCE,GETTY IMAGES
Image caption,

University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill has faced mounting calls to resign after her congressional testimony

Ms Magill in particular has faced mounting scrutiny as to whether she can continue in her position.

She released a video on the university’s website on Thursday apologising for her response during the hearing, saying that she was focused on the “university’s long-standing policies – aligned with the US Constitution – which say that speech alone is not punishable”.

She added she should have been focused on the “irrefutable fact that a call for genocide of Jewish people is a call for some of the most terrible violence human beings can perpetrate”, adding that it is “evil, plain and simple”.

While her apology on Wednesday was welcomed by some, Mr Stevens’ letter appeared to call for her resignation.

 

He said Stone Ridge would welcome the opportunity to review its decision “if, and when, there is a new University President in place”.

US media are reporting the Wharton advisory board has written a letter to Ms Magill calling for her resignation “with immediate effect”.

The House Committee on Education & the Workforce announced on Thursday that they will formally investigate Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology over “rampant antisemitism”.

“Committee members have deep concerns with their leadership and their failure to take steps to provide Jewish students the safe learning environment they are due under law,” the committee’s chairwoman Virginia Foxx said in a statement.

Two University of Pennsylvania students – both of whom are Jewish – filed a lawsuit against the school on Thursday, claiming it has become “an incubation lab for virulent anti-Jewish hatred, harassment and discrimination.”

The lawsuit also accuses the school of “selectively” enforcing rules of conduct “to avoid protecting Jewish students” and hiring “rabidly antisemitic professors who call for anti-Jewish violence”.

Islamophobic attacks have also been on the rise on university campuses.

The Department of Education has launched an investigation into multiple schools over alleged incidents of antisemitism and Islamophobia.

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