NYC deputy mayor: Washington Post report on Columbia contains ‘antisemitic tropes’

Post report alleged Jewish billionaires used their money and power to influence Mayor Eric Adams to take action against student protests

New York City's Deputy Mayor for Communications Fabien Levy speaks during a press conference at City Hall in New York, December 12, 2023. (AP/Peter K. Afriyie)
New York City's Deputy Mayor for Communications Fabien Levy speaks during a press conference at City Hall in New York, December 12, 2023. (AP/Peter K. Afriyie)

A New York City deputy mayor has attacked The Washington Post for a report he said employed antisemitic tropes, as it suggested Jewish billionaires were using their money and power to influence elected officials in their treatment of student protesters against Israel at Columbia University.

Fabien Levy, who gave the Post a statement saying their report was “completely false,” took to X Thursday to state that he was “shocked when the inquiry came in.”

“The insinuation that Jewish donors secretly plotted to influence government operations is an all too familiar antisemitic trope that The Washington Post should have been ashamed to ask about, let alone actually publish,” he wrote.

Levy went on to say that “the story is even more offensive than initially described to us” and clarified that both times police were called into Columbia it was at the “specific written requests from Columbia University to do so.”

The report in question, which was published on Thursday, described the activities of a WhatsApp group set up after October 7 in which participants, who were mostly Jewish billionaires, coordinated how they could use their resources to help Israel fight its battle for public diplomacy abroad.

“The messages offer a window into how some prominent individuals have wielded their money and power in an effort to shape American views of the Gaza war, as well as the actions of academic, business and political leaders — including New York’s mayor,” the report said.

Titled “Israel Current Events,” the group was reportedly started by real estate magnate Barry Sternlicht a few days after October 7 and closed at the beginning of May. An unnamed person close to Sternlicht told The Post that the group was closed because it had moved past its founding objective and the original participants hadn’t been active in months.

In messages from the group seen by The Post, a staffer for Sternlicht originally told the group that the goal was to “change the narrative” to help Israel with its public diplomacy.

Some members of the group met with Israeli officials, such as former prime minister Naftali Bennett and war cabinet minister Benny Gantz, for briefings on how they could help. The messages in the group also showed that its participants were instrumental in helping Israel arrange screenings of the IDF’s 45-minute documentary of October 7 Hamas atrocities, made of footage taken from security cameras and terrorists’ bodycams.

The documentary was made by the IDF as part of Israel’s public diplomacy campaign and was shown to journalists and elected officials around the world, and members of the group helped arrange a showing at Harvard as well.

Barry Sternlicht, Chairman and CEO of Starwood Capital Group, speaks during a panel at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California, on May 7, 2024. (Frederic J. Brown / AFP)

Aside from helping with Israeli public diplomacy, The Post alleged that members of the group also made donations to New York City Mayor Eric Adams to influence him into calling in police to remove pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel protesters. The report alleged that they also used their influence on Columbia leadership to convince them to ask Adams to call in the police.

According to the messages, members of the group took part in a Zoom meeting with Adams on April 26 where they allegedly discussed “donating to Adams, using group members’ ‘leverage’ to help persuade Columbia’s president to let New York police back on campus and paying for ‘investigative efforts’ to assist the city.”

While a link for donations to Adams’s campaign was shared in the group, The Post could not confirm how many and when, if at all, its members donated.

As a private university, the NYPD can only enter Columbia to break up protests and arrest demonstrators at the request of the institution and cannot do so at the mayor’s request alone.

The NYPD was called into Columbia to break up protests twice in April. The first time was on April 18, a day after pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel protesters set up an encampment on campus grounds as part of their demonstration. More than 100 protesters were arrested and the encampment was dismantled.

Even though it was rebuilt the next day and stayed up for weeks, the police were not asked for assistance again until April 30, when students vandalized and occupied Hamilton Hall. The police were called in that night to clear the students out of the hall and dozens of protesters were arrested.

Using a tactical vehicle, New York City police enter an upper floor of Hamilton Hall on the Columbia University campus in New York, April 30, 2024, after a building was taken over by anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian protesters earlier in the day. (AP/Craig Ruttle)

Levy in his response said reports of any other considerations beyond the university’s request were “completely false.” He reiterated Adams’ view that peaceful protest “has a place in our society and will always be protected” but that as a private university, Columbia had the right to call for police assistance if protests on its grounds violated its rules.

“The Washington Post and others can make editorial decisions to disagree with the decisions by universities to ask the NYPD to clear unlawful encampments on campuses, but saying Jews ‘wielded their money and power in an effort to shape American views’ is offensive on so many levels,” he concluded.

The war in Gaza was launched on October 7 by Hamas after thousands of the group’s terrorists rampaged through southern Israel, murdering some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking 252 hostages.

In response, Israel launched a ground invasion into the Gaza Strip with the objective of dismantling Hamas and getting the hostages back.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says more than 35,000 people in the Strip have been killed or are presumed dead in the fighting so far, though only some 24,000 fatalities have been identified at hospitals. The toll, which cannot be verified as it does not differentiate between terrorists and civilians, includes some 15,000 terror operatives Israel says it has killed in battle. Israel also says it killed some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on and around October 7.

Israel has faced growing international criticism for its military campaign in Gaza since the war began, especially in recent months as the Palestinian enclave teeters on the brink of famine and the number of displaced civilians continues to grow.

Students at university campuses abroad have been particularly vocal in their criticism with protests that intensified in April with Columbia’s encampment. Many universities across the US and Europe followed suit, with students setting up their own encampments and occupying buildings on campus as they demanded their institutions divest from Israel.

While some universities have come to agreements with protesters, demonstrations at Columbia persisted for weeks with some Jewish students leaving the campus, saying they no longer felt safe. The last couple of weeks of classes were moved online, and the university’s main commencement ceremony was canceled.

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