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In Dual Open Letters, Thousands of Harvard Students, Alumni, and Faculty Blast Student Groups’ Israel Statement

Faculty, alumni, and students condemned a statement by more than 30 student groups calling Israel 'entirely responsible' for the ongoing violence in the region.
Faculty, alumni, and students condemned a statement by more than 30 student groups calling Israel 'entirely responsible' for the ongoing violence in the region. By Zing Gee
By Rahem D. Hamid and Elias J. Schisgall, Crimson Staff Writers

Thousands of Harvard affiliates signed a joint statement published Tuesday condemning the deadly attack on Israel by militant group Hamas and calling for the retraction of student group signatures on a statement that held Israel “entirely responsible for all unfolding violence.”

Following Hamas’ surprise invasion of Israel Saturday morning, during which militants kidnapped more than 100 Israeli civilians and killed more than 1,000 Israelis according to Israel’s Army Radio, Israel declared war, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the launch of a full-scale counteroffensive into Gaza — a Palestinian exclave presently controlled by Hamas.

Airstrikes fired as part of the Israeli counteroffensive have killed more than 900 Palestinians in Gaza, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

The Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee and more than 30 other student groups faced fierce backlash from students, prominent faculty, and national politicians for signing a statement Saturday saying that Israel’s “apartheid regime is the only one to blame” for the violence.

Following the PSC statement, 17 Harvard student organizations including Harvard Hillel and Harvard Chabad joined around 500 faculty and staff members and more than 3,000 other affiliates, as of Tuesday afternoon, in signing a statement in response calling the PSC’s statement “completely wrong and deeply offensive.”

The response — which was primarily coordinated by Jacob M. Miller ’25, the president of Harvard Hillel and a Crimson Editorial editor — was first circulated Monday and published on Tuesday afternoon.

“There are no justifications for acts of terror we have seen in the past days. We call on all the student groups who co-signed the statement to retract their signatures from the offensive letter,” read the response.

In another letter published Tuesday afternoon, nearly 160 Harvard faculty members as of Tuesday night from across the University criticized Harvard’s initial response to the war and condemned the PSC statement, writing that it “can be seen as nothing less than condoning the mass murder of civilians based only on their nationality.”

After several of the student groups retracted their signature from the PSC statement, including the Harvard Islamic Society, Harvard Act on a Dream, and Amnesty International at Harvard, the statement was updated to remove the list of student organizations citing concern for student safety.

A PSC representative did not respond to a request for comment for this article. In a Monday afternoon comment on behalf of the PSC, a spokesperson for the group 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.

While the faculty letter acknowledged varied perspectives on “Israel’s past actions,” it argued that the tactics of Hamas’ invasion — which they say constitute war crimes — leave no room for nuance.

“The events of this week are not complicated,” the faculty wrote. “Sometimes there is such a thing as evil, and it is incumbent upon educators and leaders to call it out, as they have with school shootings and terrorist attacks.”

“The Israeli security forces were engaging in self-defense against this attack while dealing with numerous hostage situations and a barrage of thousands of rockets hidden deliberately in dense urban settings,” they added.

The list of signatories to the letter includes notable professors like former Dean of Harvard College Harry R. Lewis ’68, former Harvard Medical School Dean Jeffrey S. Flier, Psychology professor Steven A. Pinker, and former Harvard President and U.S. Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers.

Pinker and Flier also signed the student and affiliate response, alongside Rep. Ritchie J. Torres (D-N.Y.) and former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who was a visiting fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School last fall.

The response called on Harvard to condemn Hamas’ attacks, as politicians and affiliates slammed the University’s initial response Monday evening as too weak on both the attack and the PSC’s statement.

University President Claudine Gay issued a follow-up statement Tuesday morning, condemning the attacks and writing that “no student group — not even 30 student groups — speaks for Harvard University or its leadership.”

“As the events of recent days continue to reverberate, let there be no doubt that I condemn the terrorist atrocities perpetrated by Hamas,” Gay wrote. “Such inhumanity is abhorrent, whatever one’s individual views of the origins of longstanding conflicts in the region.”

Both the faculty letter and the larger response were circulated prior to Gay’s follow-up message Tuesday morning. The response was updated Tuesday afternoon to include a link to her second message.

—Staff writer Rahem D. Hamid can be reached at rahem.hamid@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Elias J. Schisgall can be reached at elias.schisgall@thecrimson.com. Follow him on X @eschisgall.

Editor’s Note: Readers should 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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