The Nation and the World

The Israel-Hamas war continues to impact the Harvard campus

Controversy struck the Harvard campus after a collection of student groups released an anti-Israel letter. On October 7, after the attack on Israel by Hamas militants that killed over a thousand people, the Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee and 30 other student groups signed a statement beginning, “We, the undersigned student organizations, hold the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all the unfolding violence.” Since the statement was posted, at least five student groups have withdrawn their signatures. 

There have been many protests on Harvard’s campus in response to the letter’s backlash. There are individuals on both sides of this debate–some support the letter signing, and others do not. According to the New York Times, “campuses have long wrestled with free speech. What is acceptable to say, and what crosses into hate speech? But the war between Israel and Hamas has heightened emotions, threatening to tear apart already fragile campus cultures.” 

Harvard administration announced that it would close the gates of Harvard Yard, home to many freshman dormitories, from 8 pm to 7 am from October 11 to 16 to those visiting without a Harvard I.D. However, on October 17, Harvard administrators extended the restrictions through October 19 by locking gates from 9 pm to 3 am to improve campus security.

On October 18, the Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee and the Graduate Students 4 Palestine organized a “die-in” after a deadly blast at Gaza’s al-Ahli Baptist Hospital killed hundreds of Palestinians the previous day. There is much uncertainty about the explosion’s origins as both sides fault the other: Israel blames the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group, while Palestine officials blame Israel, according to CNN. Nevertheless, demonstrators gathered around the Harvard Business School to call for ending violence.

The next day, on October 19, over 500 student protesters walked across Harvard’s campus while chanting and holding signs. As reported by the Harvard Crimson, protesters disrupted classes by clapping on buckets and making noise, and created traffic jams. Amidst the commotion, counter-protesters brought out Israeli flags and used chalk to draw Israeli flags and write, “I stand with Israel.” 

Outside of Harvard’s campus, the October 7 pro-Palestine letter has also faced severe backlash from politicians, executives, and even former Harvard president Lawrence Summers. There have been many financial consequences for the school; big donors, like Israeli billionaires Idan and Batia Ofer, have stepped down from Harvard’s board. 

Wall Street officials, such as billionaire hedge fund investor Bill Ackman, and other important business CEOs have demanded the letter signatories to be blacklisted from future jobs. Although the original letter did not have the names of individuals in the student organizations, associated students began to experience doxxing attacks after the letter’s release. By October 10, at least four websites exposed personal information on the students involved, such as their full names, photographs, and graduation years. A billboard truck drove around Harvard Yard for at least two days, flashing a screen with the students’ names and pictures. Accuracy in Media, a nonprofit conservative group, paid for the truck to flash the words “Harvard’s Leading Antisemites” on the truck’s billboard. Ackman added to the controversy by claiming that “it is not harassment to seek to understand the character of the candidates you are considering for employment.” 

Five students who were once willing to be interviewed by the Hallmanac were scared and changed their minds because “the situation has escalated.” Political divisions continue to impact the Harvard campus.

Photo source: Rekha Sampath

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