A prominent British donor is withholding a $1 million donation from Ben Gurion University of the Negev to protest the school’s sponsorship of a conference that includes members of Breaking the Silence, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
British businessman Michael Gross, a longstanding member of the Beersheba university’s board of governors, explained his decision to withhold the donation in a letter to the Post.
“Next Monday, Ben-Gurion University will officially sponsor a conference by leading figures and supporters of Breaking the Silence. This is effectively financed by the Israeli government and ignorant foreign donors, but absolutely nothing is done about it,” he wrote.
The conference, titled, “Whistle-blowing throughout the ages. And today...,” was organized by the department of Jewish history in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences.
The conference title in Hebrew, “Shovrei Shtika,” can be translated as “Whistle- blowing,” or as “Breaking the Silence,” the name of the NGO that publishes anonymous testimony from soldiers on alleged IDF abuses.
Speakers at the conference will include Yuli Novak, CEO of Breaking the Silence, and Nadav Weiman, the organization’s public-relations coordinator, who will speak on the closing panel and offer a “personal testimony.”
Gross wrote in his letter that, “as one of the longest- standing governors of the university, I intend to withhold a gift of $1 million which otherwise I would have pledged at the forthcoming Board of Governors meeting. It is about time the activities of these self-hating Jews, traitors to the country, are curtailed and not allowed to continue under the bogus claim of academic freedom.
“If the Israeli government hasn’t got the guts to do anything, at least Israeli and foreign donors should set an example,” he said.
In a conversation with the Post on Thursday, Gross confirmed that he intended to withhold the donation, which would have gone toward scholarships.
Gross added that his was not the only donation withdrawn from the university because of what he characterized as anti-Zionist activity, and that at least one other donor had taken back an $8m. gift in the past.
“The Israeli government talks about BDS, but there is no use talking about BDS abroad when it is going on in your own country,” he said.
BGU denied Gross’s claims and told the Post in a written response: “Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) is unaware of any pledge, promise or commitment by Michael Gross to donate $1m. or any other sum. In fact, in light of Mr. Gross’s numerous and continued attacks on the university, its president and its academic staff, the university has decided to return his most recent donation of $100,000 – his first significant donation in many years.
“BGU is a pluralistic academic institution that promotes and enables an open and diverse dialogue and does not espouse or endorse a particular political viewpoint.
The role of academia is to research and study past and current trends, and on the basis of that research to promote a critical discourse that asks questions and deepens our knowledge about historical, cultural and scientific issues. Such has ever been and remains the role of academia and is the foundation of a democratic society.
“As such, despite the longterm agitation by Michael Gross, he was reelected to the Board of Governors two years ago because, as a pluralistic institution that values freedom of expression, BGU welcomes all points of view. However, considering his ongoing malicious and false accusations, we are unclear as to why Mr. Gross wishes to retain a post on the board, a position he may resign from at any time,” the university continued.
“The conference is an academic one organized by BGU’s department of Jewish history about whistle-blowing through the ages. The term ‘breaking the silence’ in Hebrew is interchangeable with ‘whistle-blowing.’ “However, the title should not detract from the focus of the conference, which will largely address historical and current aspects of whistle-blowing, examining various phenomena in literature, history, philosophy and art. All of the academics who will be speaking are leading researchers and the topic of the conference is central to their research,” the school said.
BGU said one of the conference sessions will be on the topic of whistle-blowing in current Israeli discourse and include representatives of various viewpoints, moderated by one of Israel’s leading Holocaust scholars. Among the nonacademic representatives will be Yair Sheleg and Dror Eydar (affiliated with the Right) and representation from the left-wing Breaking the Silence group.
The conference, the university said, will be composed of three sessions: Ancient Times (Socrates); the Middle Ages (Galileo); and Modern Times in France (Zola and Sartre), Germany (Thomas Mann), the United States (the Jewish minority and McCarthyism) and Israel (Natan Alterman and Yeshayahu Leibowitz).
An additional lecture will be devoted to Eugène Ionesco’s 1959 play Rhinoceros – an anti-Nazi drama that demonstrates how anyone can fall victim to collective, unconscious thought by allowing his will to be manipulated by others.