NYC deputy mayor charges Washington Post with antisemitism after story on Jewish business leaders’ pro-Israel pressure campaign
The old Washington Post building, June 9, 2011. Photo: Daniel X. O’Neil/Creative Commons

By Luke Tress
May 17, 2024

(New York Jewish Week) – A deputy of Mayor Eric Adams has charged the Washington Post with antisemitism for publishing a story about wealthy Jews organizing an advocacy campaign for Israel and pressing the mayor to take action against anti-Israel protests at Columbia University.

The Washington Post article published on Thursday centers on a group chat on the WhatsApp messaging platform. In the chat, Jewish billionaires and prominent business figures discussed advocacy for Israel, including by facilitating showings of an Israeli government compilation of footage of Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

Last month, after pro-Palestinian students set up an encampment on Columbia’s campus, the article says members of the chat strategized about how to persuade Adams to call in the NYPD and shut it down. They discussed donating to Adams’ reelection campaign, urging Columbia’s trustees to take action and hiring private investigators. 

On April 26, according to the piece, some members of the chat group held a Zoom call with Adams. The following week, Columbia asked the NYPD to clear protesters from a campus building they had occupied. 

“Overall, the messages 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 article says. 

Fabien Levy, Adams’ deputy mayor for communications, wrote on Thursday that he was “shocked” when the Washington Post contacted the mayor’s office for the story.

“The insinuation that Jewish donors secretly plotted to influence government operations is an all too familiar antisemitic trope,” Levy said in a post on X.

Levy, who is Jewish, wrote that police had only gone onto the campus following “specific written requests” from Columbia’s administration. Suggesting that there were other factors in the decision-making process was “completely false,” he added. 

The NYPD had cleared a Columbia University protest encampment on April 18 and the occupied building on April 30, arresting dozens during both incidents. The university’s administration requested police action against the protesters both times. Ahead of the arrests, the NYPD and mayor’s office said repeatedly that the university was private property, so police could only go onto campus if called in by the administration.

The Washington Post and other outlets “can make editorial decisions to disagree with the decisions by universities to ask the NYPD to clear unlawful encampments on campuses,” wrote Levy. “But saying Jews ‘wielded their money & power in an effort to shape American views’ is offensive on so many levels.”

The Post has not commented publicly on the accusations, but a source at the newspaper said the Post routinely covers how those with power and wealth try to influence public affairs. Last year, for example, the newspaper published a story about a conservative Catholic group that spent millions of dollars buying data that identified priests who used gay dating apps.

Thursday’s article describes a “group of billionaires and business titans working to shape U.S. public opinion of the war in Gaza.” Their WhatsApp chat, called “Israel Current Events,” was set up shortly after Oct. 7, had around 100 members and shut down earlier this month. 

The group was set up by a staffer for the Jewish real estate investor Barry Sternlicht, who participated through the staffer but did not join the group directly. Sternlicht’s staffer said the goal of the group was to “win the war” of U.S. public opinion, the report said.

Members of the group who were on the call with Adams included the hedge fund manager Daniel Loeb; billionaire Len Blavatnik; and real estate tycoon Joseph Sitt. All are Jewish, although their Jewish heritage is not specified in the article. Some members of the WhatsApp group discussed making donations to Adams, and Blavatnik donated the maximum $2,100 to the mayor, the report said.

The group also included the hedge fund manager Bill Ackman, who has been an outspoken critic of universities’ Israel stances since Oct. 7. Other members were American Jewish Committee CEO Ted Deutch; Howard Schultz, the former CEO of Starbucks; the founder and CEO of Dell, Michael Dell; and Joshua Kushner, an investor and brother of Jared Kushner. 

The group also held briefings with Israeli leaders, including former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett; war cabinet member Benny Gantz, the former defense minister; and Israeli ambassador to the United States Michael Herzog, the report said.

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