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Hedge fund billionaire: College students protesting Israel have ‘sh*t for brains’

<i>Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg/Getty Images</i><br/>Leon Cooperman
Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg/Getty Images
Leon Cooperman

By Matt Egan, CNN

New York (CNN) — Hedge fund billionaire Leon Cooperman is blasting college students for protesting against Israel, joining a growing list of powerful university donors to speak out on the issue.

“These kids in college have sh*t for brains,” Cooperman told CNN in a phone interview. “They don’t understand that Israel is the only reliable ally the United States has in the Middle East.”

The Israel-Hamas war has set off enormous tensions at some universities, with some students protesting in favor of Palestinians and influential alumni threatening to cut off donations.

“It’s not just because I’m a Jew. What Hamas did was brutal and over-the-top,” said Cooperman, who made similar comments earlier this week to Fox Business. “These kids don’t have a clue what they’re talking about.”

Tensions have been particularly high at Columbia University, where Cooperman, the son of Polish-Jewish immigrants who grew up in the Bronx, went to business school.

Earlier this month, a Columbia University student who was hanging up posters in support of Israel was assaulted.

This week, a mobile billboard truck drove outside the entrance of the Ivy League school displaying the names and faces of students that a conservative nonprofit responsible for the truck says were linked to a statement blaming Israel for the Hamas terror attack.

Cooperman, who has promised to give away most of his nearly $3 billion fortune, estimates he’s donated more than $50 million to Columbia University over the years.

But now he’s threatening to halt donations to the university “unless they change their behavior.”

Specifically, Cooperman is demanding Columbia “get rid of or suspend” Joseph Massad, a Columbia professor who described the brutal Hamas terror attack as a “stunning victory” in an online article published on the day after the deadly assault.

“If they don’t do anything, they are going to lose me,” Cooperman said.

Massad, a professor of modern Arab politics and intellectual history, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Samantha Slater, a Columbia University spokesperson, declined to comment on whether the university plans to take disciplinary action against Massad.

“Columbia is grateful to Mr. Cooperman for his years of generosity and service to Columbia Business School,” Slater said in a statement to CNN. “This is a time of crisis for many members of our community and we are focused on providing the support they need while keeping our campus safe.”

Several Columbia University students CNN spoke with pushed back on Cooperman’s strong criticism of students. They requested anonymity due to concerns about their safety.

“These protests are never celebrating what Hamas did. It’s always about highlighting the disproportionate response the Israeli regime has unleashed with no regard for international law or any kind of humanitarianism,” one student told CNN. “These students are not the ones with ‘sh*t for brains,’ they’re simply trying to clean up the violent mess previous generations have left for our world today.”

Another Columbia University student argued it’s unfair to punish the university as a whole for one group’s actions.

“To withdraw funding because of one group’s activism perpetuates polarization and shuts down free speech. The university becomes further incentivized to stifle debate and activism in case it may upset donors,” that student said.

CNN’s Reid Champlin contributed to this report.

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