Harvard students face backlash for pro-Palestinian letter amid Israel-Gaza war

A letter signed by 34 Harvard University student organizations blaming Israel for the ongoing violence in the Gaza Strip has sparked outrage from prominent alumni and US lawmakers. The letter, published on Saturday by the Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee, accused Israel of being an “apartheid regime” and called for an end to its “ongoing annihilation of Palestinians”.

Israel-Gaza war

The letter and its signatories

The letter stated that the students “hold the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence” following decades of occupation, adding that “the apartheid regime is the only one to blame”. It also expressed solidarity with the Palestinian people and their right to self-determination, freedom, and dignity.

The letter was co-signed by 33 other student groups, representing various backgrounds and interests, such as the Harvard Law School Justice for Palestine, the Harvard Jews for Liberation, and the African American Resistance Organization. The letter also urged Harvard to divest from companies that profit from Israel’s occupation and human rights violations, and to support academic boycotts of Israeli institutions.

The backlash and the response

The letter drew swift criticism from some Harvard professors and alumni, who denounced it as biased, inflammatory, and anti-Semitic. Larry Summers, a former US Treasury secretary and Harvard president, wrote on X that he was “sickened” by the letter and the silence of Harvard’s leadership. He said that the letter “allowed Harvard to appear at best neutral towards acts of terror against the Jewish state of Israel”.

Other Harvard graduates who voiced their disapproval included Republican US Senator Ted Cruz, who asked on X: “What the hell is wrong with Harvard?”, and Republican US Representative Elise Stefanik, who called the letter “abhorrent and heinous” for excusing the “slaughter of innocent women and children”. Boaz Barak, a Harvard computer science professor, also condemned the letter on X, saying that it was “condoning terrorism, rape, and murder”.

Harvard University issued its own statement on Monday that did not directly address the controversy but instead said that university leaders were “heartbroken” by “the attack by Hamas that targeted citizens in Israel this weekend, and by the war in Israel and Gaza now under way”. The statement also affirmed Harvard’s commitment to academic freedom and diversity of views.

The Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee defended its letter on Instagram, saying that it was a response to the “escalating violence against Palestinians” and that it had received support from many students and faculty members. It also said that its account had been temporarily suspended after posting the letter.

The context and the conflict

The letter came amid a surge of violence between Israel and Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza. The conflict erupted after weeks of tensions over Israeli restrictions on Palestinian access to a holy site in Jerusalem and plans to evict Palestinian families from a nearby neighborhood. Hamas launched hundreds of rockets at Israel, which responded with airstrikes and artillery fire on Gaza.

The fighting has killed more than 1,000 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, and more than 100 people in Israel, mostly soldiers. It has also caused widespread destruction of infrastructure and humanitarian crisis in Gaza, where more than 2 million people live under a blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt. Several attempts to broker a ceasefire have failed so far.

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