Mayor Adams blasts Washington Post report that billionaires pressured him to end Columbia University protest

Mayor Eric Adams denied a recent report that he was pushed to shut down pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses by a group of powerful business leaders and billionaires. Monday, May 20, 2024.
Photo By Dean Moses

Mayor Eric Adams on Monday blasted as a “lie” and “antisemitic in its core” a recent Washington Post report that a group of billionaires and business tycoons pressured him to shut down pro-Palestinian encampments at Big Apple college campuses last month.

The May 16 Washington Post report indicates that a group including Daniel Lubetzky, the founder of Kind Snacks; Daniel Loeb, a hedge fund manager; billionaire Len Blavatnik; and Joseph Sitt, a real estate investor, held a Zoom call with Adams last month. Those on the call — which the paper said it learned of through messages it obtained from a private WhatsApp chat, discussed cracking down on pro-Palestinian encampments at Columbia University and other colleges in the city as well as making donations to Adams’ 2025 re-election campaign.

In a Monday morning interview on Fox 5, Mayor Adams denied that the group specifically influenced him to send in the NYPD and break up the encampments on April 30. Adams said, as he has in the past, that police only went in after the schools’ administrations gave them the green light.

“I think the mere fact that some article is saying some clandestine group came together to pressure us, it’s a lie,” the mayor said. “It did not happen. We meet with all groups in this city with different breakdowns and ethnicities. That is who I am, and I am going to continue to do so. But I thought there was a tint of antisemitism that was written in that article.”

In the wake of the Washington Post article, critics — including Deputy Mayor of Communications Fabien Levy on X (formerly Twitter) — blasted the piece for the “insinuation that Jewish donors secretly plotted to influence government operations,” which he said is “an all too familiar antisemitic trope.”

“The suggestion that other considerations were involved in the decision-making process is completely false,” Levy added.

By the time the Zoom call was reported to have taken place, April 26, Mayor Adams said he had already sent in the NYPD to sweep an earlier iteration of the Columbia encampment on April 18.

The mayor and the NYPD have been criticized for the police operations to end encampments at both Columbia and the City College of New York on April 30. During those actions, the NYPD swept through the encampments, cleared a building that had been seized by protesters at Columbia, and arrested nearly 300 demonstrators between the two schools.

The Washington Post, citing messages in the WhatsApp chat, also reported that the group offered to hire private investigators to assist the NYPD in quashing the protests and that Adams accepted that offer. While Adams has not yet been directly asked about the private investigators, a City Hall spokesperson denied to the Post that they had ever been used to manage protests.

Additionally, the story revealed that one of the group members, Blavatnik, donated $2,100 to Adams’ re-election campaign in April.

The WhatsApp group at the center of the story, according to the Post, is called “Israel Current Events” and was started shortly after Hamas’ devastating Oct. 7 attack on Israel with the mission of “changing the narrative” in favor of the Jewish state. The chat reportedly has over 100 members including Howard Schultz, former CEO of Starbucks; Michael Dell, the founder and CEO of Dell; and hedge fund manager Bill Ackman.

Some of Mayor Adams’ frequent critics were quick to seize on the Washington Post report last week to make a broader point that Hizzoner is allegedly beholden to wealthy interests rather than working-class New Yorkers.

​​Jasmine Gripper and Ana María Archila, co-directors of the progressive New York Working Families Party, released a statement last week tying the story’s revelations to the mayor’s broad budget cuts affecting vital city programs.

“It couldn’t be more obvious that Mayor Adams is taking his cues from his billionaire donors,” Gripper and Archila said. “That is true about his decision to send police to violently break up student protests; and it is true about his decision to cut libraries and pre-K programs. Mayor Adams continues to act in the interest of the ultra-rich, while ignoring the real and urgent needs of the working people who keep our city running.”