Whitman Family Inaugurates New Scholarship Fund for Arab-Israeli Students at TAU

"Affirmative action philanthropy" provides a world-class education for disadvantaged community

Prof. Zvi Galil (center) presents a certificate inaugurating the fund to Lois and Martin Whitman

Lois and Martin Whitman (seated, second and third from right) at an intimate personal meeting with scholarship recipients following the ceremony

The Lois and Martin Whitman Scholarship Fund was formally inaugurated on Sunday, May 18, at Tel Aviv University’s Marcell Gordon University Club. Joining sponsors Lois and Martin Whitman were four other members of the Whitmans' family, as well as 25 Arab-Israeli students who became beneficiaries of the fund with the start of the 2008-09 school year. The endowment to fund the scholarships was created in 2006.

At the ceremony, Tel Aviv University president Prof. Zvi Galil said, “A great institution should make sure a lack of means doesn’t prevent the potential of students without means.” He praised Mr. Whitman as a financial guru and a modest person.

In recognition of their support, Martin J. Whitman was also awarded an honorary doctorate degree, TAU’s highest award, on Saturday night.

Whitman is a legendary investment advisor, the founder and co-chief investment officer of Third Avenue Management LLC and a recognized expert in successfully identifying value in distressed securities. For the past three decades, Whitman has been a Distinguished Management Fellow at the Yale School of Management. Lois Whitman is the founder of the Children’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch.

Extending a Helping Hand to the Disadvantaged

The Lois and Martin Whitman Scholarship Fund was designated especially to benefit Arab-Israeli students, a population that faces extreme hardship and the highest rates of poverty in Israel. The Whitmans’ scholarships are already giving opportunities to students who would otherwise only be able to dream about higher education. For these TAU students, the scholarships are an essential lifeline to higher education.

This latest gift is in harmony with the Whitman’s giving style, which can be described as “affirmative action philanthropy.” Both Whitman and his wife have been committed to advancing the rights and opportunities of youth worldwide for decades, and have a long association with supporting education at Tel Aviv University and other institutions, including a similar endowment at Syracuse University, which funds scholarships for African-American and Latino students.

Once in Their Shoes

Whitman offered brief but inspiring remarks to the Arab-Israeli students at the ceremony. He spoke of his experience as a young Jew in America, saying, “I spent half my life as a second-class citizen.” Being Jewish, it was impossible in his time to attend Ivy League colleges such as Princeton or Yale, he said. Sympathizing with their situation, he told the students it is important “to give scholarships to Arab students at Tel Aviv University. I praise the university for being so enthusiastically involved in scholarship for Arabs. I am proud; you should be also.”

Rabbi Michael Malchior, a member of the Israeli Knesset and chairman of the Knesset’s Jewish-Arab caucus, remarked, “I want to congratulate Tel Aviv University, the Board of Governors and the Whitmans for their vision.” What’s most crucial for the future of Israel is whether “Jews and Arabs will be able to build a society together,” he said. Malchior added that Israeli Arab Palestinians, who make up 20 percent of the Israeli population, “need to be partners in building [Israeli] universities.”

Scholarship Students Tell Their Stories

After the short ceremony, the Whitmans met with about ten Arab-Israeli students in the club’s garden, where emotions were much in evidence. A PhD student from Nazareth, a beneficiary of the Whitman fund, discussed how her research on Arab women’s “sense of belonging in globalization” could help protect human rights. The students, all the first in their families to attend university, told the Whitmans how studying at university was a “dream of their parents.” Some planned to return to their villages after graduation, and others expressed the wish to continue learning and working among the population in Israel’s bigger cities.

In the heart-to-heart meeting, Lois Whitman also shared with the students that she too had her studies subsidized  not through a scholarship, but a loan from a friend’s mother. When it came time to repay the loan, she was simply told to give the same opportunity to someone else one day. Said Lois Whitman to the students who thanked her for the life-changing scholarship, “I hope you will one day have the ability to help people too.”


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