Billionaire Donor Assails Brown’s ‘Unconscionable’ Deal With Protesters

One of Brown University’s major donors, the billionaire real estate mogul Barry Sternlicht, on Friday sharply criticized the school’s agreement to hold a board vote on cutting investments tied to Israel, calling it “unconscionable” and saying he had “paused” donations to the school.
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Brown is among a small number of universities that have agreed to discuss their investments in companies that do business in Israel, in order to persuade student protesters to dismantle encampments. Mr. Sternlicht, in a scathing email to The New York Times, which he copied to Brown’s president, Christina H. Paxson, said that the arrangement amounted to sympathy for Hamas, which attacked Israel last October, and described students protesting Israel’s actions in Gaza as “ignorant.”

“There should never be a vote when people do not have the facts. It’s not education, it’s propaganda,” he wrote.

Mr. Sternlicht, 63, said that no deal with protesters could be fruitful because the two sides did not agree on “facts and moral clarity,” as well as the scale of Israel’s invasion of Gaza after Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack in which about 1,200 were killed and another 250 were taken hostage. Israel’s subsequent intense bombardment of the tightly-packed area has left more than 34,000 dead and drawn international condemnation.

He cited the hundreds of thousands of civilians killed in wars in Ukraine, Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq, asking: “Where were the protests?”

“As far as wars go, Israel has been quite muted,” Mr. Sternlicht wrote.

The blowback from Mr. Sternlicht, who has described himself as a political independent and whose name is on a Brown residence hall, shows how quickly the issue of divestment from Israel may vex universities. Until a week ago, even discussing the subject was widely considered a non-starter, as it was sure to divide a large swath of students and faculty from many of the businesspeople whose donations fill university endowments.

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