A letter from Harvard University students groups holding Israel “entirely responsible” for the ongoing war with Hamas in Gaza has inspired a backlash from notable alumni and a US legislator.
On 7 October, the same day Hamas militants launched a surprise attack into Israel, a group of 33 student organisations at the prestigious university released a statement on social media arguing that Israel’s “apartheid regime” created the impetus for the war.
“Today’s events did not occur in a vacuum,” the letter read. “For the last two decades, millions of Palestinians in Gaza have been forced to live in an open-air prison.”
“The apartheid regime is the only one to blame,” it added, describing Israel’s subsequent campaign in Gaza as “colonial retliation.”
The statement quickly attracted controversy.
Former Harvard president and Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers said he had never been more “disillusioned and alienated” with Harvard.
“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,” he wrote on X.
“To be clear nothing is wrong with criticizing Israeli policy past, present or future,” he added. “I have been sharply critical of PM Netanyahu. But that is very different from lack of clarity regarding terrorism.”
US Senator Ted Cruz, a Harvard alum, also took a critical stance towards the student statement.
“What the hell is wrong with Harvard?” he wrote on X. “Given the choice between standing with Israel or supporting terrorists who are raping, kidnapping & killing thousands of women & children…31 student groups choose the terrorists. Their blazing hatred & antisemitism utterly blinding.”
Harvard’s president Claudine Gay soon weighed in.
“As the events of recent days continue to reverberate, let there be no doubt that I condemn the terrorist atrocities perpetrated by Hamas,” she wrote in a statement released Tuesday. “Such inhumanity is abhorrent, whatever one’s individual views of the origins of longstanding conflicts in the region.”
“Let me also state, on this matter as on others, that while our students have the right to speak for themselves, no student group — not even 30 student groups — speaks for Harvard University or its leadership,” she added.
More than 1,600 people, including at least 900 Israelis and 765 Gazans, have been killed since fighting broke out on Saturday.
Hamas militants have killed babies and “decapitated” women, according to Israeli officials. At least 260 civilians were killed in a Hamas attack on a music festival in Israel, where others were taken hostage, according to search and rescue services.
Nearly 200,000 people, about a tenth of Gaza’s population, has been displaced in the fighting, according to the UN.
The Israeli government has vowed to put Gaza under “total siege,” and cut off power, water, food and fuel supplies from entering the 42-km long stretch of land.
Human rights experts warn this will have devastating consquences in Gaza on top of continued Israeli strikes on areas filled with civilians.
In addition to being one of the most densely settled urban areas in the world, nearly half of Gaza’s population are children, and the vast majority of all Gazans are dependent on foreign aid supplies to survive amid a long-running Israeli and Egpytian blockade on the territory that began in 2007.
Rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have concluded that Israel is commiting the crime of apartheid and crimes against humanity against Palestine for the country’s systematic occupation of Palestinian lands, its support for illegal settlements in the West Bank, and its institution of laws that create ethnic and religious inequalities and segregation.
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