Harvard faces backlash for student statement blaming Israel for Hamas attacks

Harvard University, one of the most prestigious and influential institutions in the world, is facing criticism from some of its prominent alumni and others for not condemning a statement issued by more than 30 student groups that blamed Israel for the recent attacks by Hamas. The statement, which was published on Saturday, October 7, 2023, claimed that Israel was “entirely responsible” for the violence and called for an end to the “Israeli occupation of Palestine”.


Summers: “I am sickened”

One of the most vocal critics of Harvard’s silence was Lawrence Summers, a former Harvard president and a former Treasury secretary under Bill Clinton. Summers, who is also a professor at Harvard, wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, that he was “sickened” by the lack of response from the university’s leadership. He said he expected Harvard to condemn the “terrorist attacks” by Hamas and stand in solidarity with the victims.

Summers also contrasted Harvard’s inaction with its clear support of Ukraine when Russia invaded the country in February 2020. He noted that Harvard had hoisted the Ukrainian flag over Harvard Yard in solidarity and issued a statement condemning Russia’s aggression. He wondered why Harvard did not show the same moral clarity and courage when it came to Israel.

Summers said he hoped that a condemnation of the student groups’ statement “will soon be forthcoming”. He added that he had nothing against criticizing Israeli policies, but that was different from being ambiguous about terrorism.

Cruz: “What the hell is wrong with Harvard?”

Another prominent Harvard alumnus who expressed his outrage was Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas and a potential presidential candidate in 2024. Cruz, who attended Harvard Law School, also wrote on X: “What the hell is wrong with Harvard?” He accused the student groups of supporting Hamas, a terrorist organization that has killed hundreds of Israelis and launched thousands of rockets at civilian targets.

Cruz also criticized Harvard for not speaking out against anti-Semitism, which he said was rampant on college campuses. He said that Harvard had a duty to defend academic freedom and intellectual diversity, but instead it was allowing its students to spread hatred and lies.

Cruz urged Harvard to take action against the student groups and to stand with Israel, which he called “our strongest ally in the Middle East”.

Student groups: “We stand with Palestine”

The statement that sparked the controversy was signed by more than 30 student groups at Harvard, including the Harvard College Palestine Solidarity Committee, the Arab Students Association, the Black Students Association, the Muslim Students Association, and others. The statement said that they were holding Israel “entirely responsible” for the attacks by Hamas, which they described as a “resistance movement”.

The statement also accused Israel of committing “ethnic cleansing”, “apartheid”, and “genocide” against the Palestinian people. It called for an end to the “Israeli occupation of Palestine” and demanded that Harvard divest from companies that support Israel. It also expressed solidarity with Palestinian students and faculty at Harvard and elsewhere.

The statement said that they were not anti-Semitic, but anti-Zionist. It said that they rejected any attempts to silence their voices or to equate criticism of Israel with hatred of Jews.

Harvard: No official response yet

Harvard University has not issued any official response to the statement or to the criticism from its alumni and others. The university’s president, Claudine Gay, who took office in July 2023, has not made any public comments on the matter.

The university’s spokesperson, Jonathan Swain, told The New York Post that he had no comment on Summers’ remarks or on the student groups’ statement. He said that Harvard respected the right of its students to express their opinions on various issues.

However, some observers have noted that Harvard has a history of being reluctant to take sides on controversial issues involving Israel and Palestine. In 2012, then-president Drew Faust declined to attend a conference on Israel’s legitimacy that was held at Harvard. In 2019, then-president Lawrence Bacow faced criticism for accepting an honorary degree from Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Some have also suggested that Harvard may be influenced by its donors and connections to both sides of the conflict. According to Forbes, Harvard has received more than $1 billion from Saudi Arabia over the years. At the same time, Harvard has also received significant donations from pro-Israel individuals and organizations, such as Sheldon Adelson, Michael Bloomberg, and Paul Singer.

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