WASHINGTON (JTA) — The change on Dean Phillips’ presidential campaign website was seemingly minor, but the story behind it involved two Jewish public figures and the debate on diversity, equity and inclusion that is roiling the culture wars over Israel, race and other hot-button topics.
In a story posted Tuesday, Politico reported that Phillips, the Jewish Minnesota congressman running a longshot campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, had changed a heading on his campaign website from “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” to “Equity and Restorative Justice.”
The text remained the same. The change came after Bill Ackman, the Jewish billionaire investor, had endorsed Phillips, maxing out his contribution to his campaign at $3,300 and giving a super PAC backing Phillips an additional $1 million. Super PACs are political action committees that may accept unlimited donations but are prohibited from working directly with campaigns.
Ackman gained an elevated public profile in recent weeks as he led the successful effort to force out Claudine Gay, the president of Harvard University, his alma mater. Gay, along with the presidents of two other elite universities, declined to unequivocally say in congressional testimony that calls for genocide against Jews violate school policy.
Ackman has also weighed in on the debate, particularly pronounced among Jewish thought leaders, over diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI. Harvard, like most universities and many corporations, has a DEI office which seeks to redress longstanding racial, gender and other inequities. Ackman opposes DEI and says it has an underlying bias that foments antisemitism.
In a statement to the New York Times, Phillips said any focus on the change was a diversion. “I support diversity. Period. I support equity. Period. I support inclusion. Period,” he said. “It is incredible how the media gets all interested in litigating slogans, but has no interest in proposals to solve the problems.”
Phillips and Ackman both denied that the change had anything to do with Ackman’s endorsement or contributions. “I am not paying him money to change his website,” Ackman told the Times.
Ackman had posted his endorsement of Phillips on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, prompting some of his ideological allies to note that Phillips used the phrase on his campaign website.
“I am confident he will get to the right place once he does his homework,” Ackman told one follower. “He is pretty busy right now.”
A number of Jewish figures have said DEI excludes Jews. Some, like Ackman, believe the movement is irredeemably bigoted; others say that the movement has worthy goals but needs to be more sensitive to antisemitism. Still other Jewish leaders say that DEI as it is constituted is the best means of redressing inequity.
The shift is not the first for Phillips as he seeks to unseat President Joe Biden. Once an outspoken defender of Israel who sparred with its most prominent critics in his party, he was among the first to call for a ceasefire in Israel’s war with Hamas.