A major New School donor is threatening to halt contributions in response to a planned November 28 event on anti-Semitism featuring controversial activist Linda Sarsour and Rebecca Vilkomerson, the executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace.
On Monday, Kenneth Bialkin, a top business attorney at Skadden and a former member of The New School for Social Research’s Board of Directors, sent a letter to New School president David E. Van Zandt, notifying the university that the panel would jeopardize his future involvement.
“I am proud of the New School’s history as a refuge for scholars who fled Nazi Germany, including Jewish thinkers like Hannah Arendt and Leo Strauss,” Bialkin writes in the letter, which Tablet has obtained. “However, I must question my commitment to continued investment in a university that has seemingly institutionalized the anti-Semitism of the radical left. In agreeing to host a panel on anti-Semitism that will propagate animus and bigotry towards the Jewish people, The New School has adopted a position that would be diametrically opposed by the institution’s venerated founders.”
Bialkin, who appears in the School for Social Research’s current list of benefactors, closes the letter by alleging that “it is intellectually dishonest, irresponsible, and immoral for The New School to sponsor and host an event, misleadingly portrayed as an expert panel, highlighting some of America’s leading purveyors of anti-Jewish prejudice. I urge you to reconsider your position, so that I do not have to reconsider mine.”
In addition to his role at the New School and Skadden, Bialkin is a leading figure in the New York Jewish and philanthropic communities. He is the secretary of the Carnegie Hall corporation, as well as the president of the American Jewish Historical Society and chairman of the America-Israel Friendship League. Bialkin is the highest-profile New School donor known to have raised objections to the event, and his letter is the first from a donor threatening to cut off support specifically because of the upcoming panel.
Bialkin follows others in the Jewish community who have expressed strong criticism of the New School’s decision. On November 13, Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt tweeted that “Having Linda Sarsour & head of JVP leading a panel on #antisemitism is like Oscar Mayer leading a panel on vegetarianism. These panelists know the issue, but unfortunately, from perspective of fomenting it rather than fighting it,” and added that “there’s not a single Jewish organization that studies this issue and/or fights this disease (such as @adl_national) would take this panel seriously, let alone the institution that put it together.” A November 14 statement that The New School provided to Tablet acknowledged that the university had “been contacted by several individuals who have expressed their concerns about the university’s participation.” The university offered several Tablet writers and editors the opportunity to “organize an event to present some of these differing views on this important topic,” which was declined. A Change.org petition objecting to the panel, which the self-described progressive Zionist organization Zioness organized, currently has over 11,600 signatures.
When asked whether The New School had received or responded to Bialkin’s letter, the university’s communication office replied, “Regarding your question about the letter from Mr. Bialkin, we are proud of and grateful for the wide ranging contributions of our supporters but do not comment on specific relationships or interactions with them.”
Armin Rosen is a staff writer for Tablet magazine.