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Pro-Israel Billionaires Line Up Behind NC Republican Leading Campus Witch Hunt

Virginia Foxx uses her position of influence to amplify the GOP’s war on universities through congressional hearings.

Rep. Virginia Foxx attends a news conference featuring remarks by college students about antisemitism on college campuses, in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on December 5, 2023.

Late last year, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce began hearings on “the scourge of antisemitism on college campuses.” The committee’s most media-grabbing moments came during the first week of December, when the presidents of Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania and MIT bungled responses on how they would address antisemitism at their universities. In the aftermath, Penn President Liz Magill, and later, Harvard President Claudine Gay, both resigned.

While recent and clear instances of antisemitism have surfaced on U.S. campuses, many see these hearings as an attempt to attack critics of Israel and its months-long assault on Gaza and to demonize protesters who show solidarity with Palestinians. The hearings treated criticism of Zionism and Israeli actions as synonymous with antisemitism, despite the fact that many Jews share these criticisms.

Driving these investigations is the chair of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Virginia Foxx, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives who represents North Carolina’s Fifth District. Foxx has held her office since 2005 and is currently running for her tenth term.

Foxx has long been a stalwart advocate of the Republican Party’s reactionary positions on everything from education policy to LGBTQ rights. Now she is weaponizing congressional hearings to serve the larger political aims of the GOP’s war on “woke campuses” and of her major donors, including AIPAC and prominent pro-Israel billionaires, who are rewarding her efforts with fundraisers and campaign contributions.

Zealot of the GOP’s Far Right Lurch

Foxx’s hearings were a charade full of exaggerations meant to score political points, garnering huge media attention while blocking out coverage of ongoing Israeli atrocities in Gaza. The university presidents who testified didn’t do themselves any favors with their clumsy responses that failed to challenge the assumptions of the questions they were asked: namely, that criticism of Zionism and support for Palestine are synonymous with antisemitism.

Foxx and the GOP have announced plans to investigate other universities for antisemitism, and to expand to other issues such as “exposing” the “true nature” of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, which they claim are “a cancer that resides in the hearts of American academic institutions” that are “sabotag[ing] our country’s fundamental values.” The committee will use subpoenas if needed.

Foxx’s hearings could help codify the misleading equation of real antisemitism against Jews — which must always be challenged — with legitimate criticism of the actions of the Israeli state, as well as play down the real threats of violence facing Palestinian and Muslim college students.

More broadly, Foxx is forging a template for an all out assault on universities, with levers of federal power in hand, using her position of influence to amplify the GOP’s war on universities through congressional hearings. As The New York Times put it, “House Republicans are now embarking on an aggressive and expansive investigation into institutions of higher education in America, targeting the academic elites they have long viewed as avatars of cultural decay — all in the name of combating antisemitism.”

Foxx has been an important player in the GOP’s far right lurch over the past two decades, and the hearings are the newest stage in her long pursuit of an extreme conservative agenda in Congress. She was a staunch backer of the Tea Party when it arose after President Barack Obama’s election, even claiming she was the “tea party before the tea party started.” Earlier in 2005, she voted against a $51.8 billion aid package to Hurricane Katrina victims.

Foxx opposes student debt relief and wants to dismantle the Department of Education. She has a long record of opposing workers’ rights. She cosponsored the anti-immigrant Birthright Citizenship Act of 2017, whose main sponsor was the white supremacist former Iowa Rep. Steve King.

In 2023 she introduced the “Parents Bill of Rights Act,” widely seen as an attack on LGBTQ youth, and expressed alarm over the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling favor of same-sex marriage. Amid debate over hate crime legislation in 2009, she claimed labeling Matthew Shepard’s murder as a hate crime was a “hoax.” (Foxx’s subsequent apology was refused by Shepard’s mother.)

Pro-Israel Donors Driving Campus Witch Hunts Fundraise for Foxx

In carrying out her hearings, Foxx is backed by a host of wealthy campaign contributors who have played pivotal roles in defending the far right Israeli government and driving attacks against critics of Israel.

On December 20, 2023, the Daily Pennsylvanian reported that “critical Penn donors” were hosting a fundraiser for Foxx on January 22, 2024. According to the report, the fundraiser was set to be held on the rooftop of the boutique Kimberly Hotel in Manhattan, with tickets as much as $6,600 per couple. The organizer of the Foxx fundraiser was reported to be precious metals magnate Andrew Sabin, who has donated $59,700 to Foxx since 2013. While the full list of donors is yet unknown — those campaign donation filings should become available in April — a few names have been tied to the fundraiser.

One is Marc Rowan, the co-founder and CEO of Apollo Global Management, one of the world’s largest private equity firms. He was reported to be a host for the January 22 fundraiser for Foxx. Rowan, who is worth $6.6 billion, is chair of the Board of Advisors of the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. He is a major donor to Penn. Rowan led the push against Penn’s Magill and urged donors to pull back. Hundreds of faculty have expressed alarm over Rowan’s efforts to influence the university’s academic life.

Rowan also sponsors an Anti-Defamation League fellowship and chairs the United Jewish Appeal-Federation of New York. (Gov. Kathy Hochul recently sparked controversy when she spoke at one of the group’s events and invoked an absurd analogy that seemed to rationalize genocide.)

Rowan and his wife Carolyn donated $13,200 to Foxx in early January 2024, just weeks after the December hearings. Rowan has also donated $250,000 since 2023 to the AIPAC-affiliated PAC United Democracy Project. AIPAC has endorsed Foxx and hosted her at events. The recently created AIPAC PAC reported $70,082 in donations to Foxx from 2022 through January 2024.

Another host of Foxx’s January 22 fundraiser was reported to be Ronald Lauder, heir to the Estée Lauder cosmetics empire, who is worth $4.6 billion. Lauder is a Penn alum and major donor to the university. His brother Leonard is a trustee emeritus of Penn and his nephew William P. Lauder is a current Penn trustee. Ronald Lauder said he halted his donations to Penn last October over antisemitism at the school.

Lauder has been president of the World Jewish Congress since 2007 and was a major donor to Donald Trump. Politico included Lauder among an “unsanctioned coterie of pro-Israel quasi-lobbyists” who have worked to influence Congress. Ronald’s nephew Gary Lauder has donated over a half-million dollars to AIPAC-tied PACs since 2023.

Other Far Right Billionaire Backers

Foxx has long been supported by a host of other influential conservative and pro-Israel donors. The most prominent is Sheldon Adelson, the late billionaire casino mogul who was a prominent backer of Israel and the top contributor to Donald Trump’s election campaigns. Adelson played a pivotal role in shaping the Republican Party’s extreme pro-Israel policies, including Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Adelson was a staunch backer of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, and a major donor to Zionist groups such as the Zionist Organization of America and One Jerusalem. Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam Adelson helped support Virginia Foxx’s rise in Congress with $18,400 in donations from 2005 to 2009.

Another big donor to Foxx has been Art Pope, who has been called the “third Koch brother” because of his close relationship to the Kochs, his major role in funding a network of right-wing groups and think tanks, and his outsized influence in shaping politics, especially in North Carolina, his and Foxx’s home state. Pope supports many conservative causes through his foundation, the John William Pope Foundation. He is a donor to anti-LGBTQ groups and politicians that pushed North Carolina’s “Bathroom Bill.” More recently, Pope obtained a seat on the University of North Carolina Board of Governors and has helped drive right-wing attacks on higher education in the state. Pope has donated $25,000 to Foxx from 2004 to 2023.

Harlan Crow, the billionaire real estate tycoon who made headlines in 2023 for his close personal and financial association with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, is another Foxx benefactor. A longtime conservative donor who owns a signed copy of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, Crow funded a right-wing nonprofit group founded by Thomas’s wife, Ginni Thomas. Crow has lavished Thomas for years with gifts, such as private jet trips and expensive vacations, that Thomas failed to disclose, even as Crow has financial interests tied to Supreme Court cases that Thomas will vote on. Harlan Crow and his wife Kathy gave Foxx $14,100 in 2020 and 2021.

Foxx donor Tim Dunn, a billionaire Texas oilman, was the key funder of Empower Texans, which is credited for accelerating the state GOP’s far right shift and driving anti-LGBTQ legislation in Texas. Dunn has poured tens of millions into advancing a Christian theocratic vision, and the Wall Street Journal reports that he will be a close insider during Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign. Dunn donated $2,900 to Foxx in June 2022.

Other donors to Foxx include Stephen A. Schwarzman, the megabillionaire head of private equity giant Blackstone ($6,636.25 in February 2024); hedge fund billionaires Ken Griffin ($8,882 from 2019 to 2023) and Paul Singer ($28,400 from 2016 to 2024); late coal baron Robert Murray ($4,400 from 2010 to 2014), current U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy ($5,700 from 2006 through 2016), and Richard and Betsy DeVos ($5,800 in 2021).

Backed by Corporate PACs

A number of major corporations and industry groups also donated to Foxx’s leadership political action committee, Victory and Freedom PAC, and her campaign committee, Virginia Foxx for Congress, in 2023

Corporations whose PACs donated $5,000 to her campaign committee included McDonalds, Lowe’s Companies, Deere & Company, Discover Financial Services, Caterpillar, Abbott Laboratories, UPS, Home Depot, UBS and Boeing. Corporate PACs that each donated several thousand dollars to her leadership PAC included Google, FedEx, Comcast, Home Depot, Blue Cross Blue Shield, UBS and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

A number of PACs associated with industry organizations also donated thousands to Foxx since 2023, including the Investment Company Institute, which lobbies for asset managers; the American Bankers Association, which lobbies for big banks; the National Restaurant Association, which lobbies for big restaurant chains around issues like fighting wage hikes and rolling back child labor laws; and many more.

Many of these corporations have interests that Foxx, as chair of a committee that oversees education and workforce policy, has a major hand in regulating. Foxx has been criticized in the past for lauding scamridden for-profit colleges while accepting donations from the industry.

Ultimately, Foxx’s donor list reveals close ties with key actors driving the current effort to suppress critics of Israel and supporters of Palestinians rights, as well as with ultra-right billionaire activist donors and corporations more generally. In effect, a small layer of political actors who use their wealth, philanthropy and campaign contributions to advance their agenda have cemented an alliance with Foxx as she carries out the GOP’s broader attacks on universities.

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