Florida university president who condemned boycott has financial ties to settlements

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Judy Genshaft President of the University of South Florida in Tampa, 2012  (Photo: Tampa Bay Times)

Judy Genshaft
President of the University of South Florida in Tampa, 2012
(Photo: Tampa Bay Times)

Students and faculty members at the University of South Florida (USF) are speaking out on President Judy Genshaft’s condemnation of the boycott of Israeli academia. Critics of Genshaft say her stance is colored by her extensive ties to Israel and financial interests in the country, suggesting a possible conflict of interest. They have also pointed to Genshaft’s poor record on academic freedom, undermining her appeals to that principle.

Genshaft began the 2014 year condemning the American Studies Association’s (ASA) call for an academic boycott of Israeli institutions, describing the resolution as “antithetical to the core values of academic freedom” and “improper.” The boycott is an attempt to reprimand Israel for infringing upon the academic freedom of Palestinian students and other human rights abuses.

Genshaft’s overseas investments reveals ties between the university official and illegal Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank–land deemed by the United Nations to be occupied Palestinian territory.

According to tax returns, Genshaft is a co-manager of the non-profit Genshaft Family Foundation, which donates to various Jewish causes. The foundation accrues interest annually from a $10,000 stake in corporate bonds at the Industrial Development Bank of Israel. Genshaft’s private foundation has received annual dividends from the Israeli bank since at least 1998, according to public tax records.

The Industrial Development Bank of Israel is co-owned by the State of Israel and Israel’s two largest banks, Bank Hapaolim and Bank Leumi. Both of the latter banks operate in and finance settlement activities considered illegal under international law in the occupied Palestinian territories. The banks provide mortgage loans for homebuyers in settlements, special loans for construction projects, and financial services to businesses operating in settlements, amongst other activities.

“With knowledge that President Genshaft condemns a boycott that, if successful, would impose a threat to the stability of her foundation’s investments, I come to believe there is the presence of a conflict of interest and I wish for it to be addressed,” said Malak Fakhoury, vice president of USF’s Students for Justice in Palestine advocacy group.

Pension funds in the Netherlands and in Luxembourg pulled their investments from Bank Hapoalim and Bank Leumi earlier this year. In a move that made headlines in January, Dutch pension giant PGGM pulled the plug on their ties with the five largest banks in Israel. Israeli newspaper Haaretz pointed out that PGGM’s “decision is liable to damage the banks’ image, and could lead other business concerns in Europe to follow suit.” The FDC pension fund of Luxembourg abides by a socially responsible investment policy and has published a list of 61 “excluded” firms that do not comply with its standards.

The United Nations and the International Court of Justice have adopted multiple resolutions calling the establishment of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories a breach of international law. Even President Obama has called the continued settlement expansion policy of the Israeli government an impediment to peace prospects in the region. Nonetheless, Israel has continued its expansion in the Palestinian West Bank territory in defiance of such worldwide condemnations, and with no repercussions.

The banks are directly targeted by the worldwide grassroots call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel, which the American Studies Association’s academic boycott is a part of. According to its website, the movement was created in response to calls made by Palestinian civil society to respond to Israeli human rights violations. Founders of the campaign maintain that it is structured along the same principles of the worldwide movement that helped put an end to apartheid in South Africa. The movement subsequently targets Israeli universities because they have “contributed directly to maintaining, defending or otherwise justifying” the abuse of Palestinian human rights.

USF international law professor Harry E. Vanden says the boycott against Israeli institutions is analogous to the academic boycotts started in 1965 against institutions operating within the South African apartheid regime. The boycotts halted in 1990 upon the end of apartheid.

“It is certainly legitimate to consider sanctioning [Israel] to force it to come in line with certain precepts of international law,” opined Vanden. “The same way it was legitimate to bring pressure against the state of South Africa to bring its practice into concert with international law, specifically its use of apartheid and racism.”

Some USF faculty expressed concern over Genshaft’s failure to consult them before issuing the anti-boycott statement on behalf of the university.

“I’m not sure why [Genshaft] felt obliged to make a statement on the part of the university. It almost seems that she was trying to satisfy the needs of some other group outside the university,” said Vanden. “If indeed a statement were to be made, it should come from all bodies of the university, or at least they should be consulted. I don’t think any of us were [consulted], or were even aware that she was going to do that.”

The American Studies Association, the largest organization devoted to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history, called for the boycott of Israeli academic institutions in December 2013. Two-thirds of participating voters supported the resolution to join other noteworthy academic organizations standing in solidarity with Palestinians denied their academic freedom by Israel. The association justifies its actions on the grounds that Israel continues to bomb Palestinian schools and universities, deport Palestinian students and scholars, and imposes a system of religious and racial segregation. The ASA notes that Israel also prevents the travel of Palestinian scholars, and that Arab students attending Israeli universities are subject to ongoing surveillance. Armed soldiers patrol Israeli universities and some are trained to suppress protestors.

The national boycott has been expectedly met with mixed reactions. Along with USF, more than 200 universities voiced their rejection of the boycott, with four institutions withdrawing completely from the ASA. A letter from the U.S. Congress, signed by 134 members and addressed to ASA President Curtis Marez, suggests “thinly veiled bigotry and bias” on the part of the ASA towards Israel.

At least one supporter of Israel at USF agrees the boycott is a wrong move.

“That’s not how peace is achieved. Academia is how peace is achieved,” said Rabbi Ed Rosenthal, director of the USF Hillel. “We have to work towards peace. Not through boycotts, but by dialogue and negotiation.”

Despite the rabbi’s views, national Hillel guidelines prevent the partnering with and hosting of groups or individuals who support boycotts or sanctions against the State of Israel.

In January, legislation passed in New York’s Senate that would ban state funding to public colleges that give money to organizations participating in the boycott. The bill did not pass through the lower house, but was reintroduced with softer penalties. Other states have passed resolutions condemning the boycott.

And in a move seen by boycott supporters as countering the ASA’s decision, USF Provost Ralph Wilcox was sent on a weeklong trip to build partnerships at Tel Aviv University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Both institutions are targeted by the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions movement for their contribution to the Israeli occupation. Tel Aviv University receives funding from the Israeli military for more than 50 projects, and more than 50 percent of its Security Studies Program students “belong to the middle and upper echelon of Israel’s defense establishment,” according to the school’s TAU Review. Hebrew University’s campus is partially built in East Jerusalem, where the United Nations has determined the establishment of Israeli settlements to be a breach of international law.

Wilcox told The Oracle that the trip was taken to gain “a deeper understanding of Israel and its neighbors – a better appreciation of the root cause of the conflict and determine the feasibility of future collaborative solutions.”

Despite that claim, Wilcox made no visit to any Palestinian universities in the West Bank.

When President Genshaft condemned the academic boycott, she said that it is “antithetical to the core values of academic freedom.” It was a curious statement given the university’s record on academic freedom.

Critics have questioned Genshaft’s commitment to academic freedom since the controversial termination of USF professor Sami Al-Arian in 2001 due to being accused of terrorism. After placing Al-Arian on administrative leave, Genshaft was condemned by the USF Faculty Senate, the United Faculty of Florida, and the American Federation of Teachers, the second largest education labor union in the country. The American Association of University Professors stated that Genshaft’s decision raised “grave issues of academic freedom and due process,” and threatened to censure the university. “Support Academic Freedom” bumper stickers, distributed during the United Faculty of Florida’s campaign to bring justice for Al-Arian, still adorn the office doors of several professors who voiced their support.

Al-Arian was found not guilty on most charges, including charges of violence, though he admitted to a conspiracy accusation as part of a plea bargain. Supporters have said the agreement was reached in part to end his family’s suffering. Al-Arian is waiting to be deported, having been held under house arrest since 2008.

Critics say another blemish on Genshaft’s record is USF’s poor record regarding the academic freedom of its own students. Genshaft was silent when USF decertified a pro-BDS student body referendum in 2013. The referendum, calling for USF to divest from companies complicit in human rights violations in occupied Palestinian territories, garnered more than 2,500 signatures en route to making it on the Spring 2013 election ballot. USF Office of the General Counsel, represented by USF attorney Joanne Adamchak, initially argued that the referendum could not be placed on the ballot since “the university does not take on political referendums.” But Students for Justice in Palestine argued in its press release that the Student Government “had previous referendums on the ballot which were political in nature as well,” citing both the Real Food and Health Care referendums as previous examples. USF legal counsel later shifted its stance, claiming that the referendum violated Florida statutes. In a controversial move, the student-run Election Rules Commission refused to certify the results, despite reaching the number of votes necessary.

Genshaft also has personal ties to Israel. According to the Jewish Press of Pinellas County, she has visited Israel at least 25 times, including a trip in December 2011 in which she, along with Florida Governor Rick Scott, formed a pact with Ben Gurion University. In 2013, she was presented the Tree of Life Award by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), another organization targeted by the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions movement. JNF has come under fire by the movement because of its involvement in of the destruction of Palestinian villages in 1948 and the subsequent planting of forests to “greenwash” the remnants. Desmond Tutu, a Nobel laureate and South African anti-apartheid activist alongside Nelson Mandela, urged Johannesburg University to boycott Ben Gurion University in 2010. He said: “by maintaining links to both the Israeli Defense Forces and the arms industry, BGU structurally supports and facilitates the Israeli occupation.”

But Rabbi Rosenthal does not believe Genshaft’s comments, considering her holdings and relations, portray a conflict of interest.

“Knowing President Genshaft, she bleeds green and gold,” said Rosenthal. “She wants what’s best for the university.”

Genshaft’s office and USF’s media contacts have declined to comment on the issue.

“We have no further information to share at this time,” responded Lara Wade, USF’s primary media contact.

About Omar Erchid

Omar Erchid is a Journalism student at the University of South Florida and the Public Relations Officer of Students for Justice in Palestine. Follow him on Twitter @oerchid

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41 Responses

  1. Kay24
    April 11, 2014, 9:45 am

    Most of these zionist minions, somehow have connections to, or benefit from, the brutal occupation, illegal settlements, and obviously they are financially better off, when Israel inflicts human rights abuses on Palestinian people. Shame on this woman for not standing up for what is right, and doing the decent thing. She is an embarrassment to the university, a woman with no principles. There are so many like her in our nation, apart from Congress (the most shameful) in the media, think tanks, banks, businesses, you name it, all doing benefitting in some way or the other, doing Israel dirty work, and protecting is from the rest of the world. 25 trips to Israel eh?
    That explains a lot.

    • thetruthhurts
      April 16, 2014, 1:13 am

      bank leumi has a very shady past,having been the bank of record with another name, for the earliest jewish zionist terror groups like irgun and the stern gangs

  2. ritzl
    April 11, 2014, 9:57 am

    Great reporting. I wonder how many of the other university officials that came out so quickly and utterly against ASA also have personal financial conflicts of interest relating to Israel.

    Outside of zio-world, this thoroughly discredits Genshaft’s ability to determine what is “antithetical” or not when it comes to BDS. But then, we’re not really outside of zio-world quite yet.

    More exposure, please…

  3. Pixel
    April 11, 2014, 10:06 am
  4. RobertB
    April 11, 2014, 10:59 am

    Just a thought….the author of this article is a journalism student at the University of South Florida…just wondering what Judy Genshaft’s response will be when she sees this article…and what she will have up her sleeve for Omar Erchid…???

  5. hophmi
    April 11, 2014, 11:09 am

    LOL. So, because her non-profit family foundation, which has net assets of over $4,000,000 (link to guidestar.org), owns $10,000 in corporate Israel bonds (that’s one quarter of one percent of the foundation’s assets), which amounts to a dividend of peanuts every year, she has a conflict?

    This is what we call de minimus. And it’s also a nice way of avoiding the fact that there is a long list of college Presidents who have condemned the ASA boycott, who have no such holding.

    #pallywoodfail

    • ritzl
      April 11, 2014, 3:29 pm

      @hophmi- Two points:

      1) The $10K is certainly a very small percentage of the Genshaft’s overall investment. So, a) it should be easy to shed (if she’s going to make these pronouncements with no conflict of interest); and, b) there is no listing of where the other $4M is invested in the 2013 return you linked to.

      2) What is listed (last page) is a $500K donation to Bayit Lepletot. link to bl-girlstown.org A noble cause (which I don’t want to diminish), BUT, and it’s a huge “but,” located in East Jerusalem. It’s an illegal location. From Bayit Lepletot’s website:

      In 1969 it became obvious that we had once again outgrown our facilities. At the time, the country was celebrating its victory of the Six Day War. Bayit Lepletot’s Founder and Director, Rabbi Samuel I. Stern, purchased land in one of the newly acquired, northern neighborhoods. With incredible help from Above, Bayit Lepletot was awarded a grant by the United States government, which became the seed money in constructing our Girls Town Jerusalem building. For over four decades now, the beautiful Girls Town Jerusalem campus, with its dormitory and academic center, has rehabilitated and educated hundreds of girls from dysfunctional and disadvantaged homes.

      Again, I don’t diminish the cause at all, but the Genshaft Family Foundation supports the illegal settlement of East Jerusalem in a huge financial way. That’s a giant, very real conflict of interest, when one (Genshaft) deigns to negatively characterize a movement that is against illegal settlements, among other things.

      In your world, settlement of EJ isn’t an issue at all. Genshaft’s behavior is just normal. But that’s kind of the point of BDS, isn’t it?

      • ritzl
        April 15, 2014, 1:18 am

        Not to belabor this, so maybe only for Mr. Erchid’s benefit at this point…

        The tax form that hophmi linked to is a statement of changes in financial position for a non-profit. So the $10K is simply a current year outlay for additional investment, in Israel Bonds per that line item. It is NOT the total current holding.

        The current assets held in Israel investments, generically, could be the entire amount of the $3.6M of the foundation’s holdings. It may only be the $10K. There may be a way to find out what those assets are, but I don’t know what that way might be.

        Sorry, I’m not a tax guy and it took a while to realize this.

      • oldgeezer
        April 15, 2014, 1:57 am

        Statement of changes in financial position track assets and liabilities over the year. It shows the balance at the start of the year…. So there was no change or additional investment. In the year that they were acquired the opening balance would show zero/space. So yeah it’s a 10k investment. Not sure of the bond rate but one could expect it to be in line with normal bond rates. Maybe slightly higher or lower depending on the difficulty or ease they were having in raising capital.

      • ritzl
        April 15, 2014, 12:29 pm

        You’re right, oldgeezer. I shouldn’t have “belabored” it.

        Cheers.

    • Woody Tanaka
      April 11, 2014, 3:36 pm

      “because her non-profit family foundation, which has net assets of over $4,000,000 (link to guidestar.org), owns $10,000 in corporate Israel bonds (that’s one quarter of one percent of the foundation’s assets), which amounts to a dividend of peanuts every year, she has a conflict?”

      If she’s getting $1 from Israel it’s a conflict, because she’s in a partnership with the Israeli state, through this bank.

    • Giles
      April 12, 2014, 9:35 am

      Hophmi believes in the non-existent Pallywood. Yet no doubt rejects the idea of a Zionist controlled Hollywood. Zionists display the worst case of projectionism seen on these shores since Americans were calling Indians savages as they murdered Indian women and kids

      • hophmi
        April 14, 2014, 12:38 pm

        “Hophmi believes in the non-existent Pallywood. Yet no doubt rejects the idea of a Zionist controlled Hollywood”

        LOL. Pallywood = pro-Palestinian propaganda. I hate to tell you, but the Palestinians and their supporters do indeed do PR. I know it’s, like, impossible for you to fathom that you too engage in this form of propaganda, but believe me, you do, and this is one example of it. You outdo CAMERA sometimes.

  6. Justpassingby
    April 11, 2014, 11:33 am

    Why doesnt she go and live there? I pay for the ticket.

  7. The Truth
    April 11, 2014, 11:42 am

    The fact is that this brand of rhetoric is the definition of antisemitism.

    Just trying to beat Hophmi to the punch.

    • hophmi
      April 11, 2014, 2:48 pm

      No, it’s not antisemitism (unless you believe that the students are primarily interested in her because she’s rich and Jewish). It’s just dishonest and silly. Spin it out a bit. Colleges have complex, diversified portfolios that include international holdings, and so do most college Presidents, and it amounts to a lot more than a quarter of one percent. This isn’t even a personal holding. So if we’re now holding college executives accountable for their investment portfolios, nay, holding them responsible for their college’s investment portfolios, or portfolios of non-profits that they may be associated with, then you’re going to find a lot of problems with a lot of college Presidents.

      • talknic
        April 11, 2014, 9:43 pm

        @ hophmi Uh huh. Your defense of anything in defense of the indefensible is cute…… So, it was OK to invest in the Nazi war machine? WOW!

      • hophmi
        April 12, 2014, 3:59 pm

        Your ridiculous tactic of comparing everything to the Nazis would be funny if it weren’t sad, offensive, and disingenuous.

      • talknic
        April 13, 2014, 8:03 pm

        hophmi Your criteria pal

  8. pabelmont
    April 11, 2014, 11:50 am

    She wouldn’t misbehave wso badly for a miserable $10,000 investment, surely. However, she wouldn’t make that $10,000 without strong pro-Zionist feelings, adn there is the COI on the matter of the vote to divest.

    She should get out of the way, and the students should call for her resignation. By her actions, she has disqualified herself from running a university.

  9. HarryLaw
    April 11, 2014, 12:23 pm

    Genshaft is aiding and abetting war crimes, Most war crimes deal with offenses against individuals or groups of individuals, but the offense in Article 49(6) the transfer of Israelis into occupied territory, is one that threatens the integrity of an entire people. It clearly qualifies as an exceptional offense of higher order that is of grave concern to the global community as a whole, If I lived in Florida I would be outside that University handing out thousands of copies of this article.

    • Walid
      April 11, 2014, 4:12 pm

      Must be the Florida air. Another Florida university president that’s aiding and abetting Israel’s war crimes and doing it for the Jewish money for the university is University of Miami President, Donna Shalala, former Clinton Health Secretary and with Lebanese roots that got herself in deep poo in 2012 in Beirut but it didn’t bother her because of her great love for Israel. She was booed by the students at the masters graduation ceremony at Beirut’s AUB because of her pro-Israel and anti-BDS reputation. The AUB had announced her invitation and the honorary degree she was to be awarded only a week in advance to thwart students’ protests that would have upset the planned event because the previous year (2011), the students had succeeded in ganging up on the university to disinvite another Israel-lover, former World Bank president James Wolfenson.

      Despite Shalala’s university’s agreements with UBG, the Technion and Bar-Ilan and her frequent visits to Israel, when she was departing Tel Aviv in 2010 after her visit to oppose the academic boycott at the behest of the American Jewish Congress, she was detained and interrogated during 2 hours because of her Arabic name but on arriving in the US, she said that it hadn’t bothered her. Phil and Silverstein had articles on the humiliating 2010 incident.

      Donna Shalala’s statement re ASA’s boycott: ““We join with other higher education institutions in rejecting the actions of the American Studies Association as misguided, inappropriate, and hostile to the larger purposes of learning, academic freedom, and intellectual exchange— which are fundamental missions of American higher education.”

      Other than USF and U of Miami, also on the anti ASA bus are Florida State, Florida International, University of Florida, and Florida Atlantic.

      al-Akhbar article on Shalala in Beirut:
      link to english.al-akhbar.com

      Phil’s article on Shalala in 2010:
      link to mondoweiss.net

      • Daniel Rich
        April 11, 2014, 8:06 pm

        Q: Shalala

        R: “A great song’s hidden in that name. Something pompous and with a German beat to it” – Johan Mahler [Former Stasi court composer]

  10. stevelaudig
    April 11, 2014, 6:40 pm

    So the headline is “War Profiteering in Academia”

  11. Kathleen
    April 11, 2014, 7:21 pm

    Great digging and reporting.

    Ouch.
    “USF international law professor Harry E. Vanden says the boycott against Israeli institutions is analogous to the academic boycotts started in 1965 against institutions operating within the South African apartheid regime. The boycotts halted in 1990 upon the end of apartheid.

    “It is certainly legitimate to consider sanctioning [Israel] to force it to come in line with certain precepts of international law,” opined Vanden. “The same way it was legitimate to bring pressure against the state of South Africa to bring its practice into concert with international law, specifically its use of apartheid and racism.”

    Some USF faculty expressed concern over Genshaft’s failure to consult them before issuing the anti-boycott statement on behalf of the university.

    “I’m not sure why [Genshaft] felt obliged to make a statement on the part of the university. It almost seems that she was trying to satisfy the needs of some other group outside the university,” said Vanden. “If indeed a statement were to be made, it should come from all bodies of the university, or at least they should be consulted. I don’t think any of us were [consulted], or were even aware that she was going to do that.”

  12. bilal a
    April 11, 2014, 9:07 pm

    You can justify a myriad of evils once you’ve determined that your enemy wants to kill you, your family, and your people. Dangerous stuff, psychopathic racial hatred , ie Podheretz in the WSJ:

    “With this we come to the main reason I believe that the Palestinians do not deserve any sympathy, let alone the astonishing degree of it they do receive (and not least from many of my fellow Jews). It is that ever since the day of Israel’s birth in 1948, they have never ceased declaring that their goal is to wipe it off the map. In all other contexts, this would be called by its rightful name of genocide and condemned by all decent people. Yet—here we go topsy-turvy again—for any and every step Israel takes to defend itself against so shamelessly evil an intent, it is the Israelis who are obsessively condemned at the U.N. and by the increasingly strident propagators of what calls itself “anti-Zionism” but is also increasingly indistinguishable from anti-Semitism.
    link to online.wsj.com

    This is crossing a line, blood libel hate speech.

  13. Daniel Rich
    April 12, 2014, 1:13 am

    Off topic.

    To all women who either work for, contribute to or otherwise interact with the Mondoweiss web site.

    Although the IP conflict is one of gloom and doom, reading what you have to say, the way you think and how you side with truth and justice, fills my heart with pride and joy. Moreover, it gives me hope and makes me smile.

    I have thought of a way to return the favor until I stumbled over one. This is to all of you: Viva la Vida

  14. PeaceThroughJustice
    April 12, 2014, 1:44 am

    She should ask for her face-lift money back. That photograph is distinctly creepy.

    • Taxi
      April 12, 2014, 10:56 am

      Yeah she got a good deal on a facelift but she cheapened out on a neck job.

      And those oh so permanently surprised eyebrows are beyond “creepy”. Yikes!

  15. TerriKnoll
    April 12, 2014, 7:47 am

    Great article Omar. Sending email in solidarity. She is ridiculous.

    • TerriKnoll
      April 12, 2014, 8:00 am

      I’ll report back if I get an answer (which is doubtful) Free Palestine!

  16. brenda
    April 12, 2014, 10:34 am

    very fine piece of journalism, Omar Erchid.

  17. traintosiberia
    April 12, 2014, 2:41 pm

    Settlement is illegal even by American standard including legal.
    But there is an academician breaking the law,suppressing it,and then trying to preserve her self interest ( both financially and by using Israeli Lobby through her vocal support – at least it would never hurt her ) well perched in the higher echelon of academic universe . The messages to the students are many and all of them are morally repugnant,illegal,and self serving .
    It was in Florida where a judge convicted a Palestinian Professor and put him in jail
    for supporting Palestine

  18. amigo
    April 13, 2014, 8:05 am

    FOR SALE!!!

    My dignity,my self respect,my sense of justice and fair play, my humanity.

    Apply within , ask for the president.

    Bring money.

  19. Talkback
    April 14, 2014, 12:32 pm

    So Judy Genshaft directly supports war crimes financially?

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