Several students of Harvard University are facing backlash for issuing a statement blaming Israel for the ongoing Israel-Gaza war which, ironically, started with a surprise attack on Israeli civilians on Saturday.
More than 900 Israelis have been confirmed dead so far in that attack even as Israel has launched a counter attack on Gaza.
The statement, which can be accessed here, was signed by 34 student groups under a coalition called the Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee.
It began by saying that “We, the undersigned student organizations, hold the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence”.
It further said,
“Today’s events did not occur in a vacuum. For the last two decades, millions of Palestinians in Gaza have been forced to live in an open-air prison. Israeli officials promise to ‘open the gates of hell’ and the massacres in Gaza have already commenced. Palestinians in Gaza have no shelters for refuge and nowhere to escape. In the coming days, Palestinians will be forced to bear the full brunt of Israel’s violence.
“The apartheid regime is the only one to blame. Israeli violence has structured every aspect of Palestinian existence for 75 years. From systematized land seizures to routine airstrikes, arbitrary detentions to military checkpoints, and enforced family separations to targeted killings, Palestinians have been forced to live in a state of death, both slow and sudden.”
Condemnation Of Statement From Alumni And Politicians
The letter immediately drew sharp reactions from commentators, Harvard alumni and even businesspeople. One of the first to condemn the statement was Lawrence H Summers, the former treasury secretary and former Harvard president, who wrote on X, “In nearly 50 years of @Harvard affiliation, I have never been as disillusioned and alienated as I am today.”
Summers also called out the university for its silence over the Hamas attack on Israel. He wrote on X, “The silence from Harvard’s leadership, so far, coupled with a vocal and widely reported student groups' statement blaming Israel solely, has allowed Harvard to appear at best neutral towards acts of terror against the Jewish state of Israel.”
Several US lawmakers including Harvard alumni Ted Cruz also condemned the statement. Cruz wrote on X, "What the hell is wrong with Harvard?"
Similarly, Harvard Computer Science professor Boaz Barak said, "I have a lot of criticisms of Israeli policies, but everyone who signed this statement is condoning terrorism, rape, and murder.”
He asked the university to remove the student groups' school affiliations.
The university's Jewish Centre said the statement was a sign of "further hatred and anti-Semitism".
Harvard Forced To Issue Pro-Israel Statement
Following the uproar, the university issued two statements in a row. The first statement, put out the university’s website on 9 October, was signed by “Harvard University Leadership” including president Claudine Gay.
It said that “We write to you today heartbroken by the death and destruction unleashed by the attack by Hamas that targeted citizens in Israel this weekend, and by the war in Israel and Gaza now under way.”
A second statement was issued the next day, this time condemning the Hamas in clearer terms and also addressing the controversy caused by the letter issued by the student groups. Signed in the name of president Gay, it said,
“As the events of recent days continue to reverberate, let there be no doubt that I condemn the terrorist atrocities perpetrated by Hamas. Such inhumanity is abhorrent, whatever one’s individual views of the origins of longstanding conflicts in the region.
“Let me also state, on this matter as on others, that while our students have the right to speak for themselves, no student group — not even 30 student groups — speaks for Harvard University or its leadership.”
Students Warned They Won't Be Hired
The same day, billionaire hedge fund manager Bill Ackman criticised the statement and called for the names of the students public, they would not be hired by him.
He posted on X,
“I have been asked by a number of CEOs if @harvard would release a list of the members of each of the Harvard organizations that have issued the letter assigning sole responsibility for Hamas’ heinous acts to Israel, so as to insure that none of us inadvertently hire any of their members.
"If, in fact, their members support the letter they have released, the names of the signatories should be made public so their views are publicly known. One should not be able to hide behind a corporate shield when issuing statements supporting the actions of terrorists, who, we now learn, have beheaded babies, among other inconceivably despicable acts.”
Students Begin Withdrawing Their Endorsement Of The Statement
After the backlash, the student coalition has removed the names of the 34 student groups that signed the statement. The part where the names were earlier mentioned, now says, “This statement was co-authored by a coalition of Palestine solidarity groups at Harvard. For student safety, the names of all original signing organisations have been concealed at this time.”
Below, however, is the complete list of students groups that signed it, although it is not known how many students are part of these groups:
African American Resistance Organization
Bengali Association of Students at Harvard College
Harvard Act on a Dream
Harvard Arab Medical and Dental Student Association
Harvard Chan Muslim Student Association
Harvard Chan Students for Health Equity and Justice in Palestine
Harvard College Pakistan Student Association
Harvard Divinity School Muslim Association
Harvard Middle Eastern and North African Law Student Association
Harvard Graduate School of Education Islamic Society
Harvard Graduate Students for Palestine
Harvard Islamic Society
Harvard Law School Justice for Palestine
Harvard Divinity School Students for Justice in Palestine
Harvard Jews for Liberation
Harvard Kennedy School Bangladesh Caucus
Harvard Kennedy School Muslim Caucus
Harvard Kennedy School Muslim Women’s Caucus
Harvard Kennedy School Palestine Caucus
Harvard Muslim Law School Association
Harvard Pakistan Forum
Harvard Prison Divest Coalition
Harvard South Asian Law Students Association
Harvard South Asians for Forward-Thinking Advocacy and Research
Harvard TPS Coalition
Harvard Undergraduate Arab Women’s Collective
Harvard Undergraduate Ghungroo
Harvard Undergraduate Muslim Women’s Medical Alliance
Harvard Undergraduate Nepali Students Association
Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee
Middle East and North African Graduate School of Design Student Society
Neighbor Program Cambridge
Sikhs and Companions of Harvard Undergraduates
Society of Arab Students
By Tuesday, five of the original 34 signatories had withdrawn their statement. These include Amnesty International at Harvard, Harvard College Act on a Dream, the Harvard Undergraduate Nepali Student Association, the Harvard Islamic Society, and Harvard Undergraduate Ghungroo.
Some of these formally apologised on their respective social media accounts, others blamed their endorsement on “miscommunication”.
Harvard has produced eight former presidents and four of the nine current Supreme Court justices, and is considered the most influential university in American politics.
Swati Goel Sharma is a senior editor at Swarajya. She tweets at @swati_gs.
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