Growing backlash over Harvard students’ pro-Palestine letter

Harvard University campusImage source, Getty Images

By Madeline Halpert

BBC News, New York

A letter from Harvard University student groups blaming Israel for violence in the region has drawn a backlash from prominent alumni and US lawmakers.

The letter, authored by the Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee, stated that students “hold the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence”.

It was co-signed by 33 student groups.

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

“The apartheid regime is the only one to blame. Israeli violence has structured every aspect of Palestinian existence for 75 years,” the letter added.

The letter comes after Israel says 1,000 people have been killed and 100 kidnapped since Hamas militants launched a surprise attack in the early hours of Saturday. In Gaza, more than 700 people have been killed in retaliatory Israeli air strikes.

The student statement, posted on Saturday, was swiftly rebuked by some professors as well as former Harvard president Larry Summers, who wrote in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, that he was “sickened” by it.

“The silence from Harvard’s leadership, so far, coupled with a vocal and widely reported student groups’ statement blaming Israel solely, has allowed Harvard to appear at best neutral towards acts of terror against the Jewish state of Israel,” the former US treasury secretary said.

Harvard University issued its own letter on Monday that did not directly address the controversy but instead said university leaders were “heartbroken” by “the attack by Hamas that targeted citizens in Israel this weekend, and by the war in Israel and Gaza now under way”.

Mr Summers’ criticisms, meanwhile, were echoed by several Republican US lawmakers, including Harvard alumni Ted Cruz who wrote on X: “What the hell is wrong with Harvard?”

Harvard Computer Science professor Boaz Barak also took to social media to condemn the letter, asking the university to remove the student groups’ school affiliations.

“I have a lot of criticisms of Israeli policies, but everyone who signed this statement is condoning terrorism, rape, and murder,” he said.

More on Hamas-Israel attacks

The University’s Jewish centre, Harvard Hillel, claimed the statement was a sign of “further hatred and anti-Semitism”.

The groups that signed onto the letter – which called on Harvard to “stop the ongoing annihilation of Palestinians” – included the Harvard Law School Justice for Palestine, the Harvard Jews for Liberation and the Harvard South Asian Law Students Association.

In a post on Instagram, the author of the statement, the Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee, said its account had been temporarily suspended after posting the letter.

The group called the move “a recurring pattern of Meta’s censorship of pro-Palestine messaging”.

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