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Harvard President Claudine Gay Fiercely Condemns Hamas, Rejects Calls to Punish Students for Israel Statement

University President Claudine Gay said in a video address Thursday evening that Harvard would not sanction students who signed onto a controversial statement following Hamas' attack on Israel.
University President Claudine Gay said in a video address Thursday evening that Harvard would not sanction students who signed onto a controversial statement following Hamas' attack on Israel. By Julian J. Giordano
By Miles J. Herszenhorn and Claire Yuan, Crimson Staff Writers

Updated: October 12, 2023, at 11:29 p.m.

Harvard President Claudine Gay forcefully condemned “barbaric atrocities perpetrated by Hamas” and rejected calls to punish and name students who signed onto a statement that said they hold Israel “entirely responsible” for the ongoing violence.

Gay said in a video address Thursday evening — her third statement this week — that the University “embraces a commitment to free expression” and will not seek to sanction those who have criticized Israel, even as she sought to distance the University from the student group statement.

In the address, titled “Our Choices,” Gay reiterated the University’s rejection of terrorism, hate, and harassment.

“We can fan the flames of division and hatred that are roiling the world,” Gay said. “Or we can try to be a force for something different and better.”

In the speech, Gay reiterated the University’s commitment to free expression, though she did not specifically refer to the student groups that co-signed the Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee’s controversial statement on Israel.

“That commitment extends even to views that many of us find objectionable, even outrageous,” she said. “We do not punish or sanction people for expressing such views, but that is a far cry from endorsing them.”

The Palestine Solidarity Committee released a statement originally co-signed by more than other student organizations on Saturday that said “the apartheid regime is the only one to blame.”

“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.”

The statement faced swift campus and national backlash, including from members of Congress and former University President Lawrence H. Summers, who also took aim at Harvard’s administration for remaining silent on the war in Israel and not condemning the PSC’s statement.

In a follow-up statement Wednesday, the PSC wrote that it “staunchly opposes all violence against all innocent life.”

Gay — alongside 17 University leaders — wrote a statement to Harvard affiliates Monday evening, but critics immediately denounced the email for not forcefully condemning Hamas and anti-semitism. The next day, Gay released a second solo statement condemning Hamas and distancing Harvard from the PSC statement. Executive Vice President Meredith L. Weenick ’90 sent a Wednesday night email to students with resources for students facing online threats and harassment.

In her Thursday evening address — the University’s fourth public statement in as many days — Gay pushed back against criticisms that “inflame an already volatile situation on our campus.”

“We can issue public pronouncements declaring the rightness of our own points of view and vilify those who disagree, or we can choose to talk and to listen with care and humility, to seek deeper understanding, and to meet one another with compassion,” Gay said.

The video follows calls from the PSC for University leadership to “immediately and unequivocally condemn the harassment and intimidation of its students.”

Bill A. Ackman ’88, a hedge fund manager and prominent Harvard donor, issued some of the most forceful demands for the University to name and shame the students affiliated with the statement.

“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,” Ackman wrote in a Tuesday post on X.

Students affiliated with the organizations that originally signed onto the Palestine Solidarity Committee’s statement faced numerous doxxing attacks throughout the week while several organizations removed their signatures from the statement. As of Tuesday, at least four online sites published the personal information of students linked to the clubs.

On Wednesday and Thursday, a truck with a digital billboard drove through the streets of Cambridge surrounding Harvard’s campus displaying the names and faces of students allegedly affiliated with the students groups who had signed onto the PSC statement.

Gay concluded her message by urging Harvard affiliates to meet this moment “with grace.”

“It’s in the exercise of our freedom to speak that we reveal our characters and we reveal the character of our institution,” Gay said. “How we go forward as a community is up to each of us.”

​​—Staff writer Miles J. Herszenhorn can be reached at miles.herszenhorn@thecrimson.com. Follow him on X @mherszenhorn or on Threads @mileshersz.

—Staff writer Claire Yuan can be reached at claire.yuan@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @claireyuan33.

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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