Washington Post under fire for story alleging outsized influence by Jewish donors

New York City’s deputy Mayor Fabien Levy accuses paper of advancing antisemitic tropes

Employees of the Washington Post, joined by supporters, walk the picket line during a 24 hour strike, outside of Washington Post headquarters in Washington, DC, on December 7, 2023. (Photo by Brendan SMIALOWSKI / AFP)

The Washington Post published a news story on Thursday suggesting that a group of wealthy Jewish donors used their influence to push New York City Mayor Eric Adams to send the NYPD onto Columbia University’s campus to clear out protesters.

The article alleges that a group of prominent business leaders privately voicing their concerns about growing pro-Hamas sentiment and instances of antisemitism on college campuses in a WhatsApp group chat “offer a window into how some prominent individuals have wielded their money and power in an effort to shape American views of the Gaza war, as well as the actions of academic, business and political leaders — including New York’s mayor.”

The group chat eventually led to a Zoom call with Adams, where members mused about how they could press Columbia University leadership to allow NYPD forces onto campus to clear out the encampment. Days earlier, protesters’ antisemitic harassment led the Biden White House to condemn “physical intimidation targeting Jewish students and the Jewish community” taking place on Columbia’s campus 

The story claimed that the group “pressed” Adams to “send police to disperse pro-Palestinian protests at Columbia University,” though the mayor had already been openly pleading for days with Columbia University President Minouche Shafik to allow his cops on campus. 

Fabien Levy, a spokesperson for Adams, condemned the Post for the line of questioning in the first place, saying in a statement: “Let’s be very clear: Both times the NYPD entered Columbia University’s campus — on April 18th and April 30th — were in response to specific written requests from Columbia University to do so. Prior to these operations, Mayor Adams consistently stated that Columbia is a private institution on private property and that assistance would be provided only upon request.”

“Any suggestion that other considerations were involved in the decision-making process is completely false, and the insinuation that Jewish donors secretly plotted to influence government operations is an all too familiar antisemitic trope that the Washington Post should be ashamed to ask about, let alone normalize in print,” Levy said. 

Levy went on to condemn the Post for the article’s framing and language choices in a series of posts on X, formerly Twitter, writing that the paper and “others can make editorial decisions to disagree with the decisions by universities to ask the NYPD to clear unlawful encampments on campuses, but saying Jews ‘wielded their money & power in an effort to shape American views’ is offensive on so many levels.”

A staffer for billionaire real estate mogul Barry Sternlicht set up the group chat, which had reportedly grown to over 100 members from across the business community, in the wake of Oct. 7. The report suggests that the group chat’s “activism has stretched beyond New York, touching the highest levels of the Israeli government, the U.S. business world and elite universities.”

While not all of the members of the chat are Jewish, the only ones mentioned in the piece are. Aside from Sternlicht, the Post references Kind snack company founder Daniel Lubetzky, hedge fund manager Daniel Loeb, billionaire businessman Len Blavatnik, real estate investor Joseph Sitt, former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, Dell founder Michael Dell, hedge fund manager Bill Ackman, and businessman Josh Kushner. 

Sternlicht’s staffer wrote to the group shortly after Oct. 7 that the mission of the chat, which was disbanded earlier this month, was to “help win the war” of U.S. public opinion while Israel worked to “win the physical war.” The article described the group’s work focused on “funding an information campaign against Hamas” and highlighted Sternlicht’s “$50 million anti-Hamas media campaign with various Wall Street and Hollywood billionaires.”

The story was co-bylined by Hannah Natanson and Emmanuel Felton, the latter of whom retweeted a post from The 1619 Project author Nikole Hannah-Jones earlier this month that Black Americans experience more hate crimes than Jewish Americans and shouldn’t be compared to one another.

“Black Americans experience the most hate crimes of any group in America. They live at the bottom of every indicator of well being. They face rampant and documented discrimination in employment, housing, you name it. I really wish pundits discussing campus protests and anti-Semitism would stop using us as the comparison group for what would not be tolerated,” Jones wrote on the platform.

Reached by JI about the story, and asked about the thinking behind publishing a story arguing a group of wealthy Jews are influencing leading public officials, a Washington Post spokesperson declined to comment.

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