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One of Brown University’s major donors, the billionaire real estate mogul Barry Sternlicht, on Friday sharply criticized the school’s agreement to hold a board vote on cutting investments tied to Israel, calling it “unconscionable” and saying he had “paused” donations to the school.

Brown is among a small number of universities that have agreed to discuss their investments in companies that do business in Israel, in order to persuade student protesters to dismantle encampments. Mr. Sternlicht, in a scathing email to The New York Times, which he copied to Brown’s president, Christina H. Paxson, said that the arrangement amounted to sympathy for Hamas, which attacked Israel last October, and described students protesting Israel’s actions in Gaza as “ignorant.”

“There should never be a vote when people do not have the facts. It’s not education, it’s propaganda,” he wrote.

Mr. Sternlicht, 63, said that no deal with protesters could be fruitful because the two sides did not agree on “facts and moral clarity,” as well as the scale of Israel’s invasion of Gaza after Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack in which about 1,200 were killed and another 250 were taken hostage. Israel’s subsequent intense bombardment of the tightly-packed area has left more than 34,000 dead and drawn international condemnation.

He cited the hundreds of thousands of civilians killed in wars in Ukraine, Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq, asking: “Where were the protests?”

“As far as wars go, Israel has been quite muted,” Mr. Sternlicht wrote.

The blowback from Mr. Sternlicht, who has described himself as a political independent and whose name is on a Brown residence hall, shows how quickly the issue of divestment from Israel may vex universities. Until a week ago, even discussing the subject was widely considered a non-starter, as it was sure to divide a large swath of students and faculty from many of the businesspeople whose donations fill university endowments.

Now, the topic is on the table. The University of Minnesota, Northwestern University and Rutgers University have also agreed to discuss their investments as a way to end the protests, while activists elsewhere have included divestment from Israel on their lists of demands. No universities have taken any concrete measures to cut holdings, and it is ultimately considered unlikely.

Mr. Sternlicht’s note represented the kind of broadside from a donor that universities have feared for months, after attacks from prominent backers earlier helped topple two Ivy League presidents. He copied on his letter a number of influential business leaders and university donors, including Marc Rowan, the private equity chieftain who led a successful campaign to unseat the University of Pennsylvania president last year.

Dr. Paxson referred a request for comment to a spokesman for Brown, who declined to comment directly, instead sending a statement reading in part that “there are few issues as contentious and deeply felt as those related to Israel.”

A leader of Brown’s protest earlier said that the group expected pushback from donors, but that it should carry no weight.

One of the most well-known names in real estate, Mr. Sternlicht is chairman and chief executive of Starwood Capital Group, a developer of luxury malls, homes and hotels that once owned the Sheraton, W and Westin lodging brands, among others.

Brown has regularly crowed about hefty donations from Mr. Sternlicht and his former wife — also a graduate of the university — and he earlier served two terms as a trustee on the Brown Corporation, the school’s governing board. A Miami resident, Mr. Sternlicht has been a supporter of Jewish and Israeli charities, and spoken about his father’s experience fleeing Poland before the Holocaust. By his count, he has donated more than $20 million to Brown, but said on Friday that he will not give more for now.

It has been a tumultuous week at campuses across the nation, which have faced widespread student protests over the war in Gaza. Brown, like others, saw a pro-Palestinian encampment spread across its main lawn.

Unlike some others, however, the Brown administration was quick to negotiate a way out. Their deal: To hold a corporation vote this fall on whether the $6.6 billion Brown endowment should divest from any Israeli-connected holdings. The vote will be preceded by a meeting between a small group of student activists and corporation members this month.

Even though several Brown donors earlier said they did not expect the vote to be successful, and that they were pleased to see the campus settle down, the mere prospect of divesting from Israel has been alarming to some. Dr. Paxson, as recently as 2020, turned down such efforts, saying that the endowment was “not a political instrument.”

Mr. Sternlicht, in his letter, had pointed words for Dr. Paxson, suggesting that she should be more critical of Hamas, and willing to push out professors who engaged in hate speech.

As for the protesters formerly on the quadrangle, Mr. Sternlicht wrote that students who “feel like Hamas is noble” should leave Brown.

“I don’t know much about you,” he added, “but I didn’t go to school carrying a tent.”



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