Brandeis University continues to break its own fundraising records despite the ongoing controversy over Middle East issues that has made its Waltham campus the focus of international attention.
While rumors abounded earlier this year that some major donors to the university had plans to withdraw or withhold funds based on their objections to President Jimmy Carter's January address, officials announced July 16 that funds raised in the 2006-07 fiscal year totaled $89.4 million in cash, a ten percent increase from last year's previous record of $81.3 million.
Brandeis officials said that throughout the fundraising year, they were not worried that the rumors would prove true.
"We saw no donors of consequence – that we knew of – who had any intention to stop or reduce giving to Brandeis," said university President Jehuda Reinharz.
Senior Vice President of Institutional Advancement Nancy Winship, who has overseen all fundraising for the university for 13 years, said that her office did receive correspondence from concerned parties, but that there were no threats of withheld or withdrawn donations.
"The main issue was Carter's anti-Zionist stance and the views on Israel that he expressed in his book, and there was a lot of misinformation out there as well," she said. "Because of my experience, I didn't think that it would have an impact, but I was concerned enough that I answered every e-mail and every phone call. It could have been an issue, but we responded to it directly."
Based on Winship's evaluation of the donation records, no previous donors failed to contribute this year, she added.
Reinharz said that in his experience, those who threaten to withhold money are the ones who have never given any at all. He added that he noticed no increase in such empty threats with regard to the Carter controversy.
Such an overturning of funding fears is not new to Brandeis. In July of last year, the Advocate reported that the school's 2005-06 take – also record-breaking – assuaged concerns that objections to Khalil Shikaki's appointment to the Crown Center for Middle East Studies and playwright Tony Kushner's receipt of an honorary doctorate would result in financial hardship. The school was criticized for supporting Shikaki, whose brother has alleged connections to Islamic Jihad, and Kushner, who has expressed anti-Zionist views. However, the uproar over Carter's visit to discuss his book, "Palestine Peace Not Apartheid," raised such talk of financial backlash to a fevered pitch in recent months, engendering a prominent article in New York's Jewish Week and attention from columnists and bloggers around the world. According to the Jewish Week article, Stuart Eizenstat, a past advisor to Carter and a Brandeis trustee, said that Carter's visit to the school was the reason behind some unnamed donors' choice to retract funds. Now, the article's incendiary headline, "Brandeis Donors Exact Revenge for Carter Visit," appears to have been jumping the gun.
"All along, I saw no evidence that there would be any downturn in donations," said Reinharz. "It was a story that had no legs from the very start."
Although this is the university's official position, Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, which spearheaded an unsuccessful effort to draw from Reinharz a public denunciation of Carter's book, said that his sources say otherwise.
"Lay leaders at Brandeis have told me that there have been major donations withdrawn due to the fact that Brandeis hired Khalil Shakaki and gave an honorary doctorate to Tony Kushner," Klein said. "I understand that this withdrawing of major gifts happened even before Carter spoke, but that of course was additionally shocking to the pro-Israel community, that a Jewishly-oriented university would give a platform to a man like Jimmy Carter."
David Mersky, a lecturer on Fundraising and Philanthropy in Brandeis's graduate school, told the Advocate that he has not heard of any donations being withheld for reasons related to the various Middle East controversies. "There was some noise, but I don't think it was much more than that," he said. "There were people who were clearly upset, but I don't think they acted on it – I think they just needed to be heard."
Added Mersky: "Donors who … endeavor to influence an organization in a way that would contravene the values of that institution are extremely rare."