kind approach

Amid rampant antisemitism, KIND founder Daniel Lubetzky says ‘we’re talking past each other’

Lubetzky is set to appear on a panel about antisemitism at the Milken conference

Amanda Stronza/Getty Images for SXSW

Daniel Lubetzky speaks onstage at "Our Role in Overcoming America's Division" during the 2023 SXSW Conference and Festivals at Hilton Austin on March 12, 2023 in Austin, Texas.

LOS ANGELES — Before KIND bars were ubiquitous at drugstores and Starbucks checkout counters, kindness was a lesson that entrepreneur and KIND Snacks founder Daniel Lubetzky learned from his father, Roman, who survived Dachau. 

After a stint as an AIPAC pro-Israel activist while a law student at Stanford in the early 1990s, Lubetzky turned toward peacebuilding between Israelis and Palestinians before starting KIND, the company known for its granola bars that was acquired by Mars Inc. in 2017 in a deal worth $5 billion. Now, Lubetzky, who was born and raised in Mexico City, is applying the same attitude that has animated his career in the business world toward calling out antisemitism and addressing the extremist rhetoric that has become a mainstay on U.S. college campuses during ongoing protests against Israel.

“I started realizing that we’re just talking past each other, and that was not succeeding,” Lubetzky, now an investor, said of his work in the Israel advocacy space. “There was just us sharing our side with our own friends and the other side sharing their side with their own friends, not really advancing anything or solving the problems.”

Speaking to Jewish Insider on Sunday on a sunny poolside deck in Beverly Hills ahead of the Milken Institute Global Conference, Lubetzky — a lifelong advocate for the Jewish people and for peace in the Middle East — outlined the ways in which the Oct. 7 Hamas attack had profoundly altered his view of the world. 

“Even in all the most horrible stories that my dad told me,” Lubetzky said, “the stuff is horrific, but none of it is as horrific as what Hamas did.” And in the United States, the threats of antisemitism now “certainly have never been worse,” he added. Lubetzky is set to appear on a Milken panel about addressing antisemitism on Monday afternoon.  

A solution to the polarization and deep division of this moment, Lubetzky argued, is to lower the temperature and figure out how to encourage people to speak to each other again. Universities and even businesses have failed at this, he said, leading to a leadership gap and a major problem for young people entering the workforce.

“There’s a big generation that, sadly, was really not served well, where they were not taught to be critical thinkers. They were not taught to be compassionate, they were not taught to be creative, they were not taught to be courageous,” said Lubetzky. “I do find that over the last 10-plus years, the culture — this neo-Marxist oppressor versus victim rigid ideology, that [if] you kind of question the morals, you get canceled and ostracized. This is super dangerous, not just to Jewish people but it’s dangerous to society.”

The prevalence of that ideology has led Lubetzky, a socially conscious entrepreneur who wrote about social entrepreneurship in a popular 2015 book, to think twice about his own values.

“The one silver lining of everything you’ve seen over the last several months is that we now woke up and realized that we cannot wish it away, we cannot just ignore it as just some stupid extremism. These rigid ideologies are very, very serious,” said Lubetzky. “We need to replace them with positive ideologies.” 

Lubetzky declined to say whether he philanthropically supports any universities and if the anti-Israel campus protests have caused him to reconsider his giving. Still, he has no qualms about expressing his dissatisfaction: “If my kids were applying today, I would not want them applying to Columbia, for sure, UCLA and Harvard,” he said.

The general atmosphere at many elite universities has led Lubetzky to question their utility, and whether those are the graduates he should hire.

“I personally would think that a lot of employers will be much less excited about hiring people from any of those universities. And as a result, a lot less exceptional people are going to be applying to those universities. And as a result, a lot of those places are going to become mediocre over the coming years,” said Lubetzky. “A student that has taken extremist positions and demonstrated lack of compassion, curiosity civility,” Lubetzky continued — “they’re not likely to thrive in our environment.” 

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