Brown University Donor Pauses Donations Over Vote on Israel Investments

Last Friday, billionaire real estate mogul Barry Sternlicht, one of Brown University's major donors, sharply criticized the school's agreement to hold a board vote on cutting investments tied to Israel, calling it "unconscionable." Sternlicht, the chairman and chief executive of Starwood Capital Group, announced that he had "paused" donations to the school.

Brown is among a small number of universities, including Princeton, Harvard, and Columbia, that have agreed to discuss their investments in a forum hosted by the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, a Palestinian-led organization that advocates for divestment from Israeli companies and those that do business with Israel.

The debate surrounds Brown's potential involvement with companies that are linked to Hillel International, a nonprofit that supports Jewish student life on college campuses, and the Jewish National Fund, a nonprofit that works to develop Israel's national parks and forests, among other things. Both organizations have been criticized for their ties to Israel's military and occupation of Palestinian lands.

Christina Paxson, the president of Brown University, acknowledged the critical comments made by Sternlicht in a statement, expressing that she was "sorry" that he felt that way and that "open dialogue and debate" regarding the issues was important for intellectual and moral development.

Sternlicht claimed that Paxson had assured him that the school would not participate in any divestment efforts against Israel when they last spoke about it, which Paxson has not publicly commented on. He also expressed that he was "appalled" that the university would consider cutting investments with Hillel International and the Jewish National Fund, asserting that they do "incredible work."

He further explained that "to punish them for what’s going on in Gaza is just unconscionable." Sternlicht clarified that his pause on donations was not a threat but that he remained a "big fan" of the university and its students, hoping to inspire them to create positive change. He urged Paxson to cancel the vote, promising to restart donations if she did.

The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement has been prominent on many college campuses, prompting heated discussions and controversial actions regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The debate reflects a growing tension between academic institutions' commitment to social justice and the desire to support organizations that some students and faculty believe are complicit in human rights abuses.

The vote is currently scheduled to take place this Thursday, and the university's Advisory Committee on Corporate Responsibility is currently recommending that the school retain its investments in the companies in question.

The heated debate over the conflict and the status of the vote at Brown University is expected to continue until this Thursday, with the school's President encouraging "open dialogue and debate" amidst the controversy.

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