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Israeli wife of billionaire who campaigned to oust Harvard president faces plagiarism accusations

Bill Ackman called out journalists, saying they broke a 'sacred code' for investigating his wife, a former professor at MIT
Billionaire investor William Ackman speaks at The New York Times DealBook conference at Jazz at Lincoln Center, on 10 November 2016 in New York City (AFP)

The billionaire hedge fund manager who took part in a campaign to oust Harvard’s former president on charges of antisemitism and plagiarism is embroiled in a new dispute over allegations that his wife plagiarised Wikipedia and other scholars in her academic work.

Business Insider on Friday reported that Bill Ackman’s Israeli-American wife, Neri Oxman, an architect and former professor, poached segments from her doctoral dissertation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from other academics.

“Three of those were passages where she should have used quotation marks but did not, and one included language from another author without any citation,” Business Insider reported.

The news site said Oxman’s work “included multiple instances of plagiarism in which she passed off writing from other sources as her own without citing the original in any way”, adding that she lifted “at least 15 passages” from her dissertation “without any citation from Wikipedia entries”.

In response to the article, Oxman issued an apology on the social media platform, X.

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'Known anti-Zionist'

Oxman's husband, the CEO of Pershing Square Capital Management, has vowed to go on the offensive, telling his 1.1 million social media followers that Business Insider had "broken a sacred code" by investigating his wife.

“You never go after someone’s family to get at a business person. This is a sacred code that I have never seen violated," he wrote on X.

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He said Business Insider was preparing a follow-up article, calling his wife’s former students "as we speak" and that a journalist with Bloomberg had contacted his children on their cell phones for a separate story.

He labelled the editor of the investigative group at Business Insider, “a known anti-Zionist”, saying that his wife was being targeted because she is Israeli.

Ackman promised to lead a plagiarism investigation into the journalist at Business Insider and against other MIT faculty, board and committee members, including the university's president, Sally Kornbluth. Ackman said earlier that he "has good reason to believe" that plagiarism accusations against his wife originate from a source within the university.

Ackman, who is Jewish, attended both undergraduate and business school at Harvard University. He says he has given $50m to his alum in recent years. He has also accused the school of mismanaging a $10m stock donation he gave in 2020.

Ackman has become one of the most visible campaigners against Ivy League Universities, slamming what he says is their failure to address antisemitism, along with ‘“diversity and inclusion” programmes.

Universities have emerged as battlegrounds in America’s "culture war". The war in Gaza has created a new split between pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian student groups and academics.

Until recently, Ackman was better known as a combative activist investor. He has channelled his hard-charging business ways to take on top universities, claiming they have failed to combat antisemitism while calling for a clampdown on support for Palestine on campuses

Private jet offer

He made waves on social media after 7 October when he called on Harvard to release the names of students who had signed a letter blaming Israel for Hamas’s attack.

His efforts then focused on writing letters to then Harvard President Claudine Gay, who he said had failed to condemn the Hamas attack and whose approach to the war was leading to violence against Jews at Harvard.

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In one case, he volunteered to send his private jet to Harvard so that Gay could watch a screening of the 7 October attack hosted by the Israeli ambassador to the UN, and still have time to testify the next morning in Washington at an antisemitism hearing. She politely turned him down.

Ackman’s most blistering attack came after Gay, MIT’s Kornbluth and University of Pennsylvania president Liz Magill evaded answering a US congresswoman’s question at the hearing, whether calls by students for the death of Jews would violate their schools’ code of conduct.

He called on the presidents to resign “in disgrace”.

Although Harvard’s governing body and many students threw their support behind Gay, she later resigned. Magill also resigned from Penn.

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