By Samantha Flom
Former U.S. Ambassador and Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, a longtime donor to the University of Pennsylvania, notified his alma mater on Oct. 13 that he will cease donations to the school over its response to the Israel-Hamas war.
In an email obtained by The Daily Pennsylvanian, the school’s student newspaper, the 2012 Republican presidential candidate rebuked UPenn President Liz Magill for what he deemed to be an insufficient condemnation of terrorist group Hamas’s unprovoked Oct. 7 assault on Israel.
“The University’s silence in the face of reprehensible and historic Hamas evil against the people of Israel (when the only response should be outright condemnation) is a new low. Silence is antisemitism, and antisemitism is hate, the very thing higher ed was built to obviate,” Mr. Huntsman wrote.
“To the outsider, it appears that Penn has become deeply adrift in ways that make it almost unrecognizable,” he continued. “Moral relativism has fueled the university’s race to the bottom and sadly now has reached a point where remaining impartial is no longer an option.”
As a result, Mr. Huntsman, a 1987 graduate and former UPenn trustee, said his foundation would “close its checkbook on all future giving” to the school.
“My siblings join me in this rebuke,” he added.
‘Words and Ideas Matter’
The initial attack on Israel claimed the lives of more than 1,400 Israelis, the vast majority of whom were civilians. Hundreds of others were kidnapped and taken into Gaza, where some victims’ bodies were paraded through the streets in triumph.
On Oct. 10, Ms. Magill issued a joint statement with UPenn Provost John Jackson Jr. in which the officials described the attack as “abhorrent” and expressed that they were “devastated by the horrific assault.”
But for some prominent donors, the statement did not go far enough in that it made no mention or rejection of recent activity on campus that many perceived to be antisemitic.
Among those donors was Apollo Global Management CEO Marc Rowan, chairman of the board for UPenn’s Wharton School of Business, who blasted the school for its failure to denounce the comments of speakers at the Palestine Writes literature festival held on campus in September.
“The polarizing Palestine Writes gathering featured well-known antisemites and fomenters of hate and racism, and it was underwritten, supported, and hosted by various UPenn academic departments and affiliates,” Mr. Rowan wrote in a letter he submitted to The Daily Pennsylvanian on Oct. 10 that was published a day later on the eJewish Philanthropy website.
“One speaker advocated ethnic cleansing and gathering all of Israel’s Jews into ‘cantons’; another defended the necessity and propriety of substantial violence; and numerous speakers repeated various blood libels against Jews, whom they referred to as ‘European settlers’ despite their 3,000-year presence in Israel,” he noted, adding that “words and ideas matter.”
Criticizing Ms. Magill for failing to condemn those remarks, he called upon his fellow alumni to “close their checkbooks” until she and Scott Bok, chairman of the school’s board of trustees, step down.
As Mr. Huntsman’s email included that exact phrase, his decision would appear to be in direct response to that call.
Amid the backlash, Ms. Magill released another statement on Oct. 15 condemning Hamas “and their violent atrocities against civilians.”
“There is no justification—none—for these heinous attacks, which have consumed the region and are inciting violence in other parts of the world,” she said. She also addressed the controversial comments at the literature festival, emphasizing that UPenn “does not endorse” the views of the speakers who participated in the event.
“I stand, and Penn stands, emphatically against antisemitism,” she said. “We have a moral responsibility—as an academic institution and a campus community—to combat antisemitism and to educate our community to recognize and reject hate. I look forward to continuing to work with Jewish leaders, faculty, students, and staff at Penn and elsewhere to ensure we are fostering a safe and inclusive environment.”
Ivy League Schools Taking Heat
UPenn is not the only Ivy League university facing criticism for its response to the Israel-Hamas war.
Last week, Harvard University came under fire after more than 30 of its student organizations published a statement of support for Palestine on Instagram that blamed Israel for the terrorist attack on its people.
The statement—and the school’s failure to rebuke it—sparked a firestorm, with multiple CEOs calling for the institution to share the names of the students involved so they could blacklist them from future hiring.
“If, in fact, their members support the letter they have released, the names of the signatories should be made public so their views are publicly known,” hedge fund manager Bill Ackman wrote in an X post.
“One should not be able to hide behind a corporate shield when issuing statements supporting the actions of terrorists, who, we now learn, have beheaded babies, among other inconceivably despicable acts,” he added.
The resulting outrage led several student groups to withdraw their support for the letter, including Amnesty International at Harvard, Harvard College Act on a Dream, the Harvard Undergraduate Nepali Student Association, the Harvard Islamic Society, and Harvard Undergraduate Ghungroo.
The full list of endorsing organizations has since been removed from the original post “to protect the safety of affected students.”
Stephen Katte, Naveen Athrappully, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.