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Israeli Harvard Alumni Slam University Over Response to Hamas Attack

Harvard Business School student Raphael C.S. Maarek holds an Israeli flag at a Wednesday protest organized by the Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee and Graduate Students 4 Palestine.
Harvard Business School student Raphael C.S. Maarek holds an Israeli flag at a Wednesday protest organized by the Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee and Graduate Students 4 Palestine. By Julian J. Giordano
By Alex Chou and Ayumi Nagatomi, Crimson Staff Writers

Members of the Harvard Club of Israel wrote in an Oct. 11 letter that the University had “utterly failed” in its response to Islamist militant group Hamas’ surprise attack on Israel.

In the letter, which was addressed to University President Claudine Gay, 15 members of the Harvard Club of Israel condemned the administration’s Oct. 9 and Oct. 10 statements as a delayed and “lukewarm acknowledgment” of the invasion of Israel.

“We, the Harvard Club of Israel, expect better,” the letter reads. “Anything less than full support for Israel’s right to defend itself and its citizens and unequivocal denunciation of this terrorism is unacceptable and is wholly inadequate for an institution of Harvard’s caliber.”

Following the issue of the letter, Gay shared a video message on Oct. 12, where she forcefully condemned terrorism and antisemitism.

Michal Y. Herzfeld ’03, a Harvard Club of Israel board member, criticized the University for not issuing a strong statement sooner in a Wednesday interview.

“It was critical to speak immediately, and to be a leader — a voice of leadership, a voice of morality — and unfortunately, they didn’t jump on that quickly enough,” Herzfeld said.

Herzfeld said Harvard “was able to make a strong, unequivocal statement immediately coming out on the side of right” in recent years for events, citing the killing of George Floyd and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Harvard spokesperson Jason A. Newton declined to comment for this article but pointed to past statements and support resources shared by administrators, including Gay and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Hopi E. Hoekstra.

Ofir Zigelman, the club’s vice president and a graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School, said he believes the University should comment on political events “consistently and with more clarity.”

“Practically singling out the killing of Jews and the atrocity that happened from all other atrocities can be interpreted by some as a flavor of antisemitism,” Zigelman said in a Wednesday interview.

Tally Zingher ’99, a member of the Harvard Club of Israel, said in a Thursday interview that she hopes the administration will “revise its statement to be very clear on its understanding that what took place on Oct. 7 was a genocidal attempt to kill civilians.”

“The world is a challenging place — it always has been,” Zingher said. “If [Harvard’s] going to be a place to grow, to shape leaders, it needs to be more than just an open platform.”

In Gay’s video message, she upheld the University’s commitment to its affiliates’ freedom of expression, even as a group of more than 30 student organizations came under fire for signing a statement that held Israel “entirely responsible” for violence in the region. At least 10 of these groups have since retracted their endorsement.

Zigelman said he and other members of the club expected a stronger condemnation of the statement, which he said could be “interpreted as incitement to violence.” In a subsequent statement, the Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee — which penned the letter — wrote that it “staunchly opposes violence” against all civilians.

“We expected Harvard to set a global moral standard, more leadership that’s in line with what Democratic leaders of the world have said,” Zigelman said.

A spokesperson for the PSC wrote that the organization is “dedicated to drawing attention to violence against Palestinians perpetrated by the Israeli apartheid regime and enabled by US assistance.”

“As stated in our mission, we are committed to raising awareness through nonviolent resistance, which all members of the Harvard community are aware of from our actions this week,” they added.

The Harvard Club of Israel’s criticisms of the University have been echoed by other Israeli Harvard affiliates, including billionaires Idan and Batia Ofer, who stepped down from the Harvard Kennedy School’s executive board in protest of the administration’s response.

Moving forward, Herzfeld said she hopes Harvard will stand “vocally and vociferously against any evil that is perpetrated anywhere in the world.”

“It should not be an issue of academic freedom or freedom of speech,” Herzfeld said.

“This should be black and white for the Harvard administration, and they should understand that the privilege of being Harvard and having the Harvard name comes with great responsibility of speaking up on behalf of what’s right,” she added.

—Staff writer Alex Chou can be reached at alex.chou@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Ayumi Nagatomi can be reached at ayumi.nagatomi@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @ayumi_nagatomi.

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