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Tainted Money

avatar by Jeremy Rosen

Opinion

Oswald Mosley in 1968. Photo: Ignoto / Wikimedia commons

An Oxford University Professor, Lawrence Goldman, together with Sir Lloyd Dorfman and other influential alumni, have suggested the British government should intervene because they believe that Oxford University has lost its moral compass in accepting money from tainted sources.

In this case, the twelve million pounds comes from the inheritance left by Max Mosley’s father, Oswald Mosley, the leader of the British Union of Fascists, friend and supporter of Hitler and rabid-antisemite who led marches of his Blackshirt thugs against the Jews through Whitechapel in London’s East End during the 1930s. His son Max Mosley who died this year was a supporter of his father’s postwar Union Movement. In 1962 he was arrested after a punch-up with anti-fascists in east London while his father was out pedaling his antisemitism again. Max was best known for helping to transform Formula One motor racing. But he never repudiated his father’s fascism. Prof Lawrence Goldman, an emeritus fellow in history at St Peter’s College, said that Mosley had never apologized for supporting his father’s movement, which made the donations “tainted and dirty money”.

Goldman said Oxford had lost its moral compass by accepting the trust money. In this respect, Oxford probably is no different from most other major institutions of higher education either in past or modern times. The fact that the London School of Economics, University College London, and Imperial College had all accepted money from pro-Nazi sources suggested it was a much broader issue, he said. “If the Mosley family trust wants to atone, if they want to do good in the world, surely they should be building civic centers or old age homes for elderly Jews who were beaten up in Golders Green and north-west London.”

Oxford University has a long record of accepting money from donors linked to the Hitler regime. It was happy to accept millions from an heir of Friedrich Flick. The war criminal was sentenced to seven years imprisonment by a US court in Nuremberg for his use of slave labor under the Nazis. And the Alfred Toepfer Foundation. Toepfer had a record of promoting international subversion by the Hitler regime and aiding top Nazis and extremist intellectuals in postwar Europe. West Germany’s most prominent banker, Deutsche Bank’s chairman Hermann Josef Abs, was involved with Oxford funding. Abs explained away the fact that he had been the member of the Deutsche Bank’s wartime board mainly responsible for the firm’s foreign dealings at a time when one of its largest investments had been in I. G. Farben the private German chemicals company allied with the Nazis that manufactured the Zyklon B gas used to commit genocide against millions of European Jews in the Holocaust.

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Professor Goldman said, “My main worries are that Oxford’s record of accepting arguably Nazi-linked donations or grants indirectly serves to give a measure of respectability to odious, dangerous doctrines. In addition, however strongly academics benefiting from such money may object, I believe it then becomes harder to research and teach the history of the Holocaust.”

In the USA the current moralizing climate of opinion has swung in my opinion too far the other way. Yet in some cases, I strongly agree. According to the Associated Press, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is dropping the Sackler name from seven exhibition spaces amid growing outrage over the role the family may have played in the opioid crisis. In September, the Sacklers agreed to pay $4.5 billion and give up ownership of Purdue Pharma, which would be reorganized. They would in turn receive immunity from future lawsuits. Victims’ families and a group of states criticized the deal. Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty to criminal charges in late 2020. The museum and the Sackler family jointly announced on Thursday that the institution and their once-deep-pocketed benefactors would part ways, removing the Sackler name from the iconic building, including the wing that houses the Temple of Dendur. The wing is named after the brothers Arthur, Mortimer, and Raymond Sackler, who donated $3.5 million for it in the 1970s.

If only Jewish charities adopted more of a moral stance on donations. Particularly within the Orthodox world, the contrary is true. Big donations regularly whitewash plenty of crimes. I can understand that Chassidic Rebbes and mystical gurus welcome wealthy sinners back into the fold and see their charitable donations as atonements. But to make heroes out of them is a matter of moral failure that sends the wrong message to their followers. I can also understand why such religious leaders welcome penitents who come to visit them. What I can’t understand is why aspiring and current leaders go on fundraising visits to miscreants or those with a record of unacceptable behavior.

Recently a remarkable Chassidic leader came to New York where he was feted on a wildly successful visit. I was impressed both by him and by the way he has campaigned to turn the tide of excessive strictness and rigidity within a specific Chassidic dynasty. Even at the cost of being ostracized. But I was most disappointed in the sort of men he went to visit in their offices rather than their coming to see him. Once again it is the optics that disturb me. The impression that any money is all that counts. Judaism as a religion does not believe that money is the root of all evil. But that doesn’t mean that all money is the same and that all rich people are the same but some certainly are tainted. It recalls to mind the well-known Biblical phrase in Ecclesiastes that “money covers up everything.” It is as true now as it was then. But of course, the source of this quote, King Solomon, did not set such a good example either.

The author is a rabbi and writer, currently based in New York.

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