By Matt Egan, CNN
New York (CNN) — A nonprofit founded by former Victoria’s Secret billionaire Leslie Wexner and his wife Abigail is breaking off ties with Harvard University, alleging the school has been “tiptoeing” over Hamas’ terror attacks against Israel.
The Wexner Foundation’s decision to end its relationship and financial support for Harvard is the latest fallout amid criticism from donors who were alarmed by the university’s initial response to the attacks and to an anti-Israel statement issued by student groups.
The end of Wexner’s support comes as college campuses across the United States are in turmoil over responses from students, professors and administrations to Hamas’ attack on Israel and the ensuing war. Big donors have pulled money from a number of high-profile universities. Students have protested and some have been publicly shamed for their views. A handful of faculty have been lambasted by students and administrations for sharing controversial views. And university leaders are clinging onto diminishing support as some fight for survival.
“We are stunned and sickened by the dismal failure of Harvard’s leadership to take a clear and unequivocal stand against the barbaric murders of innocent Israeli civilians,” the Wexner Foundation’s leaders wrote in a Monday letter to the Harvard board of overseers.
The Wexners, whose fortune is estimated to be $6 billion, according to Forbes, specifically cite the statement released by a coalition of student groups that blamed solely Israel for the terror attacks by Hamas.
“Harvard’s leaders were indeed tiptoeing, equivocating, and we, like former Harvard President Larry Summers cannot ‘fathom the administration’s failure to disassociate the university and condemn the statement’ swiftly issued by 34 student groups holding Israel entirely responsible for the violent terror attack on its own citizens,” the Wexner Foundation letter reads. “That should not have been that hard.”
Summers, a former economic official in the Obama and Clinton administrations, drew attention last week to the “morally unconscionable” student statement and slammed Harvard leaders for their response.
Citing the “absence of this clear moral standard,” the Wexner Foundation said it has determined the Harvard Kennedy School is no longer a “compatible” partner for its organization.
Last week, Israeli billionaire Idan Ofer and his wife Batia quit a Harvard executive board in protest of how university leaders responded to the Hamas terror attack on Israel.
In a statement to CNN, Harvard reiterated comments by university leadership condemning both the attacks against Israel and terrorism.
“We are grateful to the Wexner Foundation for its very longstanding support of student scholarships,” a Harvard spokesperson said in the statement.
Last week, Harvard President Claudine Gay released a video statement attempting to quiet the growing criticism.
“People have asked me where we stand. So, let me be clear. Our University rejects terrorism — that includes the barbaric atrocities perpetrated by Hamas,” Gay said on Thursday. “Our University rejects hate — hate of Jews, hate of Muslims, hate of any group of people based on their faith, their national origin, or any aspect of their identify.”
Gay added that Harvard “rejects the harassment or intimidation of individuals based on their beliefs” and “embraces a commitment to free expression.”
“That commitment extends even to views that many of us find objectionable, even outrageous. We do not punish or sanction people for expressing such views,” Gay said. “But that is a far cry from endorsing them.”
The Wexner Foundation says its mission is to develop and inspire leaders in the North American Jewish community and Israel through programs and investments in promising professionals. The foundation has deep ties to Harvard supporting a fellowship program at the Kennedy School of Government that allows government and public service professionals in Israel to study at Harvard for a year.
Beyond Harvard’s response to the terror attacks and anti-Israel letter, the Wexner Foundation cited a broader problem where “tolerance for diverse perspectives has slowly but perceptibly narrowed over the years.”
That feeling was amplified by recent events, the letter said.
“Many of our Israel Fellows no longer feel marginalized at HKS. They feel abandoned,” the Wexner Foundation said.
Les Wexner once presided over a business empire that included Bath & Body Works and Victoria’s Secret. In 2019, Wexner apologized for his ties to Jeffrey Epstein, the convicted sex offender who died by suicide. Wexner stepped down from the Limited Brands and sold his majority stake in 2020.
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