By Daniel Trotta
(Reuters) – Prominent Harvard University alumni on Monday denounced a pro-Palestinian statement from students that blamed Israel for violence engulfing the region and urged the university to take action against the signatories.
The Islamist militant Hamas movement, which controls the Palestinian enclave of Gaza, attacked Israel on Saturday in the worst breach of the country’s defenses since Arab armies waged war in 1973. Israel has responded with air strikes on Gaza.
Hundreds of people in Israel and Gaza have been killed.
A coalition of 34 Harvard students organizations said they “hold the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence” following decades of occupation, adding that “the apartheid regime is the only one to blame.”
The organizations signing the letter included Muslim and Palestinian support groups plus others named for a variety of backgrounds including the Harvard Jews for Liberation and the African American Resistance Organization.
Reuters could not verify how many students supported the letter.
Harvard President Claudine Gay and senior leadership including 15 deans issued a statement on Monday that said they were “heartbroken by the death and destruction unleashed by the attack by Hamas that targeted citizens in Israel this weekend.”
But the statement avoided direct references to the student letter or the reaction to it.
Harvard is the most influential university in U.S. politics, having produced eight former presidents and four of the nine current Supreme Court Justices.
Harvard President Lawrence Summers, the former U.S. Treasury Secretary under Democratic President Bill Clinton and former university president, was one of several Harvard graduates to criticize the current Harvard leadership for failing to respond.
“The silence from Harvard’s leadership … has allowed Harvard to appear at best neutral towards acts of terror against the Jewish state of Israel,” Summers wrote on social media platform X. “I am sickened.”
While universities traditionally have been a bastion of free speech and radical ideas, the student letter struck a chord within the political establishment.
Elise Stefanik, a Republican U.S. Representative from New York and a Harvard graduate, called the statement “abhorrent and heinous” for excusing the “slaughter of innocent women and children.”
Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, a Harvard Law School graduate, wrote on X: “What the hell is wrong with Harvard?”
(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Jamie Freed)