Harvard draws backlash over students’ letter blaming Israel

NEW DELHI: Harvard University is at the center of a major backlash in the US over some of its students squarely blaming Israel for the violence unfolding in the region after the Hamas assault last week.
An open letter, written by Harvard Palestine Solidarity Groups, said it held “the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence.”
The letter, which came after Hamas terrorists ravaged Israeli cities and massacred civilians, sparked widespread outrage, especially due to Harvard’s silence on the row.
The letter was signed by more than 30 student groups at Harvard after the world woke to images of a mass attack by Hamas.
The “events did not occur in a vacuum,” the students wrote, laying sole responsibility for the violence on Israel.
As word of the letter spread, it sparked backlash from other students, lit up alumni channels, dominated the Harvard Crimson’s homepage and ignited a controversy that has drawn in the likes of investor Bill Ackman and former university President Larry Summers.
Ackman has now called on Harvard to release the names of students who are members of organizations that signed the letter so that he and other CEOs don’t hire them.
“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 tweeted.
“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.”
Meanwhile, Summers said on social media that he was “sickened” by the failure of the university to condemn “terrorist attacks” in Israel.
He also contrasted the position Harvard had taken to other events, including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the death of George Floyd at the hands of the police.
The university had expressed solidarity with the victims of the other two events.
What sparked more outrage was the fact that the Ivy league university chose to remain silent on the issue.
When Harvard President Claudine Gay and other university leadership issued a letter titled “War in the Middle East”, it spoke of 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”. But it didn’t address the students’ views.
That, in turn, spawned even more criticism.
Jason Furman, a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School and a former top economic advisor in the Obama Administration, wrote on X that he felt compelled to speak up.
“Acknowledging that killing hundreds of innocents is wrong should be an easy place to start,” Furman said in a post.
According to a report in The New York Times, the debate over Israel and the fate of Palestinians has been one of the most divisive on campus for decades, and has scorched university officials who have tried to moderate or mollify different groups.
While Harvard faced heavy criticism from politicians, academics and Jewish groups, other universities braced for protest.
Tensions around Israel and Palestine have been increasing on campuses across the US, including at Yale University, the University of Pennsylvania and University of California, Berkeley.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, a vocal segment of US student groups and faculty with anti-Israel and anti-Zionist views have grown in prominence.
The institutions, meanwhile, are grappling with how to preserve the right to free expression and academic freedom against calls for more oversight over the language and actions of students, faculty and administrators.
(With inputs from agencies)
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