University of Michigan gets denied by Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal

Working at the U-M Hillel, I have a vested interest in the University receiving large sums of grant money, however, I just read of one significant grant I’m happy the university did not receive. Turns out that U-M was invited to apply for a $20 million investment (only $80 million less than Stephen M. Ross donated to the Business School) from a Saudi Prince who chose Georgetown and Harvard instead. Too bad those schools didn’t do what Mayor Bloomberg did and just return the check uncashed. I wonder what the reaction would have been like in Ann Arbor had the Saudi Prince chosen U-M for his donation. I also wonder if New York Time interviewer Deborah Solomon used her real name when she sat down to talk with Bin Talal?

From the NY Times Magazine

Questions for Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal: Big Imam on Campus

Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal at Rabbi Jason Miller's BlogQ: You just gave $20 million to Harvard and another $20 million to Georgetown to advance the study of Islam, and some are concerned that you are trying to increase the on-campus influence of the Saudi royal family, of which you are reportedly the single wealthiest member.

I don’t have control, and I don’t want control. Period. They approached us with a proposal. Harvard, Georgetown, University of Chicago, University of Michigan and several of the Ivy Leagues.

But your investment company, Kingdom Holding, invited the schools to submit the proposal, didn’t it?

Whom else did you approach? Please. Keep the other universities out. I’d rather not embarrass them. The two winners were Georgetown and Harvard.

Since you’re said to be worth more than $20 billion, with major holdings in Four Seasons Hotels, Saks Fifth Avenue and Murdoch’s News Corporation, why not give an unrestricted gift instead of such a narrowly focused one?

The gift is unrestricted!

No, it’s not. It has to be spent on Islamic studies. Georgetown is renaming a center after you, and Harvard is naming a program after you.

Well, sure! The studies that concern me and fit my overall global vision – they’re Islamic studies. As you know, ever since 9/11, we have been trying to bridge the gap between West and East.

Which has backfired at least once. You became notorious in New York when Mayor Giuliani declined to accept a $10 million donation from you to victims’ families after you suggested that the U.S. was too friendly with Israel.

By the way, my check was taken to the bank and cashed. The problem was with my statement. I accepted that. Subject closed.

Subject reopened. The money was returned to you. Have you told Harvard, as you told the City of New York, that the U.S. needs to “adopt a more balanced stance toward the Palestinian cause”?

Let me tell you my position. We need to have good relations between the Arab world and Israel. When I sold my Plaza Hotel in New York, it was sold to Elad, which is an Israeli company.

Doing business with the citizens of a country is not the same thing as believing in that country’s right to exist.

We are doing so many things to bridge the gap between Christianity and Islam and Judaism. For example, at my hotel in Paris, George V, you are going to find the Christian Bible, the Jewish Bible and the Islamic Koran in each single room.

That’s a wonderful idea, but a luxury hotel in Paris is a long way from Saudi Arabia, where you could surely spend more money on Judeo-Christian studies.

Look. You have to understand that the population of Saudi Arabia has zero Christians.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |