Harvard Is in Turmoil, Accused of ‘Losing Moral Compass,’ as Students, Big Donors, and Administrators Clash Over Student Groups’ Support for Hamas, President’s Equivocations

Harvard’s Kennedy School, long pilloried for liberal bias, is losing some of its biggest donors amid the contretemps.

William B. Plowman/Getty Images
Widener Library on the Harvard campus at Cambridge, Massachusetts. William B. Plowman/Getty Images

Twelve days since members of Hamas murdered more than 1,000 Israelis, Harvard is in a full-blown crisis over student support for the terrorist attack and the university president’s repeated failure to issue a full-throated condemnation of the slaughter.

Top benefactors are pulling their support, Jewish students are denouncing their school, and, as one Harvard student put it, “a crisis of conviction” has consumed the campus amid Harvard’s fall from moral grace.

“The leadership of Harvard have proven they have lost their moral compass,” Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, said Monday in a statement unusual for criticizing an American institution’s actions on American soil. “Not only do they allow Jew-hatred and pro-terror rhetoric to permeate their campus, but they cannot bring themselves to immediately condemn terrorism.” 

Mr. Erdan’s critique follows the Wexner Group’s decision to cut ties with Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, one of the latest instances of a major donor condemning Harvard’s president, Claudine Gay, for her halfhearted response to a letter from student groups blaming Israel for the massacre by Hamas. Last week, an Israeli businessman, Idan Ofer, and his wife, who previously gave $20 million to the Kennedy school, announced they would quit its board.

Mr. Erdan’s statements came as the nation’s oldest university has become convulsed by controversy over numerous indications that large parts of its community not only oppose Israel but also support the atrocities committed by Hamas.

Three student leaders from the Kennedy school’s undergraduate Institute of Politics have resigned over the refusal of the Kennedy school’s student advisory committee to publicly condemn Hamas’s attacks. “Condemning the slaughter of innocents is not political,” students Ryan Tierney, Robert Fogel, and Theo Harper wrote in a statement published through the campus debate center, the Harvard Political Union. “It is a human obligation.”

The Kennedy institute’s executive team subsequently claimed that the student advisory committee “heavily” weighed its options before choosing not to issue an official statement on the invasion. But according to the students who resigned, a meager 17.9 percent of committee members voted to adopt a statement of any kind.

Mr. Tierney tells the Sun that he understands the students wanted to protect themselves from any backlash, but asserts that “putting out a very simple middle of the road statement condemning violence is not going to get anyone doxxed.” Mr. Tierney’s invocation of the term “doxxed” refers to how students associated with the Palestinian Solidarity Committee’s pro-Hamas statement were targeted by  trucks stationed on campus bearing their names and images and calling them antisemites. 

The opinion section of the Harvard Crimson provides further evidence of campus tumult. Students Alex Bernat, Charles Covit, and Joshua Kaplan wrote last week that “there is no justification” for Hamas’s violence against Israel that has killed more than 1,300 people so far. “Indeed, there is no justification,” senior Fawwaz Shoukfeh asserted in a response this week that focused instead on “the slaughtering and forced removal of Palestinians.” 

Others urge the school to “protect” signatories of the 31 student groups’ highly criticized statement, arguing that “harsh criticism of Israel should not be conflated with antisemitism.” Many are stressing what they see as the historical oppression of Palestinians in Gaza rather than assessing the current violence against the people of Israel. Mr. Tierney describes this trend as “over-intellectualization.”

Student Guillermo Hava, a PSC member, emphasizes the “structural factors” of Israel’s “illegal settlement-building and occupation” to explain Hamas’s attack. “For any cycle of violence to end, its root causes must be ascertained and addressed.” Similarly, the anti-Israel statement claimed that Hamas’s attacks last week “did not occur in a vacuum” and therefore “the apartheid regime is the only one to blame.”

Academic life, while intended to promote intellectual inquiry, might be priming students to think this way. “In higher education, we are trained to look for the root causes and see if we can understand something better so that you can produce a solution,” Mr. Tierney says. “But in doing that, you can lose sight of the simple, most obvious thing to say” — that is, the truth, which is the meaning of Harvard’s motto, Veritas

“A bunch of kids are sitting in a Harvard dorm behind a screen saying really, really offensive and hurtful things arguing about this topic,” Mr. Tierney says. Students have taken to ever-expanding email chains sent to hundreds of people in their dormitories to debate the war. “Meanwhile, kids in Gaza are getting bombed as a result of this attack.” The age demographics of Gaza are similar to a college campus, with almost two-thirds of the population under 24.

Many students are also expressing their views behinding a veil of anonymity. An anonymous social media platform, SideChat, has exploded with posts from Harvard students over the past week and a half, many of which are condemning Israel as the “apartheid regime.” One such post in the Harvard-exclusive group declares: “privileged uneducated people around here run around saying oppressed Palestinians who are suffering are terrorists.”

Those extolling such sentiments at country’s most elite college campuses are what Gerard Baker of the Wall Street Journal calls “entitled little authoritarians” and “legions of apologists for violence against their own perceived enemies.” Those remaining silent are facing what Mr. Tierney describes as “a crisis of conviction.” 

This crisis could pose an existential threat to universities by depriving them of some funding sources and esteemed programs — like the Wexner Foundation’s program to educate Israeli students at Harvard, a partnership that is now over. As Bari Weiss asks in the Free Press: “Has the woke bill finally come due?”

While Harvard’s cohort of activated, Hamas-supporting students appears profoundly out of sync with the rest of the country, the radicalized students might be forced to change attitudes. A recent graduate, Julie Hartman, tells the Sun that when the Chicago chapter of Black Lives Matter posted a graphic of a Hamas paraglider, college students who previously supported the organization expressed outrage. Why? “You now see your self-interest in jeopardy,” Ms. Hartman says of such students, “if you continue to be a ‘social justice warrior.’”

The New York Sun

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