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Harvard Student Groups Face Intense Backlash for Statement Calling Israel ‘Entirely Responsible’ for Hamas Attack

Members of the Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee interrupted speeches and held signs in a demonstration at Convocation in September.
Members of the Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee interrupted speeches and held signs in a demonstration at Convocation in September. By Frank S. Zhou
By J. Sellers Hill and Nia L. Orakwue, Crimson Staff Writers

Updated: October 10, 2023, at 5:15 p.m.

Harvard student groups drew intense campus and national backlash over the weekend for signing onto a statement that they “hold the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence” in the wake of a deadly invasion of Israel by the Islamist militant group Hamas.

Authored by the Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee and originally co-signed by 33 other Harvard student organizations Saturday, the statement came under fire from federal lawmakers, University professors, and other students.

The statement was initially released on the PSC’s Instagram page, which was later temporarily suspended by Meta, according to the group. The account was back online as of Monday evening.

“Today’s events did not occur in a vacuum,” the statement reads. “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.”

“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,” it continues.

The PSC’s statement quickly received widespread condemnation, including from professors and politicians who took to social media to rebuke what they said was an attempt to justify Hamas’ attack.

Harvard Computer Science professor Boaz Barak called on the University to remove the organizations’ school affiliations.

“I have a lot of criticisms of Israeli policies, but everyone who signed this statement is condoning terrorism, rape, and murder,” Barak wrote on the social media platform X.

Former University President Lawrence H. Summers called the joint statement “morally unconscionable” in a post on X.

“In nearly 50 years of @Harvard affiliation, I have never been as disillusioned and alienated as I am today,” he wrote.

The statement was also denounced by federal lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, including by U.S. Rep. Ritchie J. Torres (D-N.Y.) and U.S. Rep. Elise M. Stefanik ’06 (R-N.Y.), the fourth-ranking House Republican.

All student organizations that co-signed the PSC’s statement declined to comment, did not respond to requests for comment, or could not be reached for comment.

On Saturday, at around 6:30 a.m. local time, Palestinian militants from the Gaza Strip invaded southern Israel — assailing neighborhoods, civilian gatherings, and military fortifications. As of early Tuesday morning local time, more than 900 Israelis were killed and at least 150 people were taken hostage, according to the Israeli government.

The attack took place on the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah, 50 years and one day after the beginning of the Yom Kippur War, when Egypt and Syria invaded Israel on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar.

Throughout the weekend, Israeli forces retaliated with aggressive strikes on targets in Gazan cities, razing numerous buildings and killing more than 687 people as of Monday, according to Gazan health officials.

As of Monday evening, a joint statement by Harvard affiliates condemning the attacks and PSC’s statement had amassed more than 2,100 signatures. It called the PSC’s statement “completely wrong and deeply offensive” and demanded that the involved student groups retract their endorsements.

Harvard Hillel, the University’s Jewish center, released a response to the PSC and the groups that signed onto its letter, saying the statement represented “further hatred and anti-Semitism.”

“In the strongest terms, we oppose this outrageous statement that blames Israel for the violence carried out by Hamas terrorists - a group that has opposed peace and called for Israel’s destruction since it was founded,” Hillel’s response reads. “We expect the Harvard community to do better.”

In a statement Monday afternoon, a PSC spokesperson wrote that the group’s members “reject the accusation that our previous statement could be read as supportive of civilian deaths.”

“To restate what should be obvious: the PSC staunchly opposes violence against civilians — Palestinian, Israeli, or other,” the spokesperson wrote.

“The statement aims to contextualize the apartheid and colonial system while explicitly lamenting ‘the devastating and rising civilian toll’ in its caption,” the statement reads. “It is unacceptable that Palestinians and groups supporting them are always expected to preempt their statements with condemnation of violence.”

Harvard Hillel President Jacob M. Miller ’25 said he believes blaming Israel for the attacks is “outright wrong.”

“These are the most deadly attacks on the Jewish people since the Holocaust, and it doesn’t make rational sense to blame Israel for the attacks inflicted upon its own citizens,” said Miller, a Crimson Editorial editor. “It’s also offensive to blame the victims for the violence that’s ongoing.”

“It’s deeply tragic because the entire Jewish community and the Israeli community are reeling from this trauma, and blaming us for these attacks is really hurtful,” he added.

Though the original statement by PSC was co-signed by 34 student groups, as of Monday evening, Amnesty International at Harvard was no longer listed as a signatory. The Harvard Graduate School of Education Islamic Society had been added as a signatory on Monday evening, though it did not appear in the list originally posted to Instagram.

As of Tuesday afternoon, organizers had removed the list of student organizations from the open letter, citing safety concerns.

Amnesty International and Amnesty International at Harvard did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

—Staff writer J. Sellers Hill can be reached at sellers.hill@thecrimson.com. Follow him on X @SellersHill.

—Staff writer Nia L. Orakwue can be reached at nia.orakwue@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @nia_orakwue.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include a version of the open letter that omits the list of student group signatories following concerns of threats and retaliation against individual students.

Readers should also note that premoderation has been turned on for online commenting on this article out of concerns for student safety.

—Cara J. Chang, President

—Brandon L. Kingdollar, Managing Editor

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