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Major Harvard Donor Len Blavatnik to Pause Donations to Harvard, Report Says

Billionaire philanthropist and major Harvard donor Leonard V. Blavatnik will halt donations to the University over its handling of antisemitism on campus.
Billionaire philanthropist and major Harvard donor Leonard V. Blavatnik will halt donations to the University over its handling of antisemitism on campus. By Michael Gritzbach
By Emma H. Haidar and Cam E. Kettles, Crimson Staff Writers

Leonard V. Blavatnik, a billionaire philanthropist and major Harvard donor, will cease donations to the University over its handling of antisemitism on campus, Bloomberg reported Thursday, citing an anonymous source.

Blavatnik is the most high profile donor to date to end a philanthropic relationship with Harvard amid fierce criticism of University President Claudine Gay’s response to the Israel-Hamas war and her testimony during a congressional hearing earlier this month.

Blavatnik has previously donated at least $270 million to the University, including $200 million to Harvard Medical School in 2018 — a donation that still stands as the largest single gift in the school’s history.

Blavatnik’s decision is another major blow to Harvard’s fundraising efforts, with several major donors previously pledging to end their relationships with the University over its widely criticized initial response to the fighting in Israel and Gaza. The growing donor revolt threatens to put a strain on Harvard’s finances, as philanthropy accounts for 45 percent of the University’s annual revenue.

A representative for the Blavatnik Family Foundation declined to comment on reports that Blavatnik would halt his donations to Harvard. A Harvard spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

Blavatnik’s temporary severance of his relationship with Harvard is also a significant blow to Gay, who has weathered crisis after crisis during her first semester in office. As president, Gay serves as Harvard’s de facto fundraiser-in-chief — a role that will become much harder to fulfill if the University’s most generous donors stop giving.

Blavatnik also earlier supported Apollo CEO Marc Rowan’s efforts to halt alumni donations to the University of Pennsylvania over similar concerns of antisemitism on campus. The Blavatnik family has previously donated $2 million to UPenn.

While Blavatnik is the highest profile donor to sever ties with Harvard, he is not the first.

In October, the Wexner Foundation ended its relationship with Harvard after 34 years. Israeli billionaires Idan and Batia Ofer also quit the Harvard Kennedy School’s executive board in response to what they described as the University’s insufficient condemnation of the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel.

While some donors have chosen to make public statements about their decision to stop giving, others have chosen to privately end their financial ties to the University. The Crimson previously reported that the University’s gift officers have become increasingly worried about the financial outlook and say they have been receiving many calls from donors ending or reducing their contributions.

According to Bloomberg, a source with “direct knowledge of the matter” said the decision stemmed from Blavatnik’s concerns about the University’s efforts to combat antisemitism on campus.

Over the past two months, Gay has announced several efforts to combat antisemitism at Harvard.

Gay established an antisemitism advisory group in late October and announced she would work with the group to implement antisemitism education and training for Harvard affiliates. But her efforts have done little to quell growing calls for her resignation, which only grew louder following her controversial testimony before Congress.

During the hearing, Rep. Elise M. Stefanik ’06 (R-N.Y.) asked Gay if advocating for the genocide of Jewish people would violate Harvard’s polices on bullying and harrassment. Gay’s response — that it depended on context — drew backlash from both Republicans and Democrats in Washington, as well as Harvard affiliates on campus.

Gay apologized for her answer to Stefanik’s question in an interview with The Crimson two days later.

—Staff writer Emma H. Haidar can be reached at Follow her on X @HaidarEmma.

—Staff writer Cam E. Kettles can be reached at Follow her on X @cam_kettles or on Threads @camkettles.

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