Harvard weasels on the Israel/Palestine conflict; many of its scholars push back

October 11, 2023 • 12:30 pm

At this link you’ll find two letters from Harvard administrators about the war.

The first, from October 9, is signed by virtually all Harvard administrators and is what the tweet by Pinker below, with the linked letter, is aimed at. Harvard faculty have taken severe issue with what the Harvard administrators said.

The second statement, by President Claudine Gay alone, was sent to the community yesterday, October 10—after 35 Harvard student groups at Harvard issued a letter defending Hamas and condemning Israel. This one is short and sweet

A Statement from President Claudine Gay
October 10, 2023

As the events of recent days continue to reverberate, let there be no doubt that I condemn the terrorist atrocities perpetrated by Hamas. 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.

We will all be well served in such a difficult moment by rhetoric that aims to illuminate and not inflame. And I appeal to all of us in this community of learning to keep this in mind as our conversations continue.

Claudine Gay
President, Harvard University

She’s not pulling any punches, accusing the student groups of inflaming rather than illuminating. (That’s true.) But why was there no strong condemnation of terrorism in the Octobeer 9 letter?

About the first Harvard letter: Steve Pinker, on behalf of a large group of Harvard scholars, called attention on Twitter to a statement signed by many of them, pushing back on the October 9 letter. I’ve put that statement below, with the list of signatories below the fold:

The first (October 9) letter from Harvard administrators resembles those I published this morning, briefly mentioning the Hamas attack, giving the details, but not condemning it. It then goes into student welfare and a form of “both-sideism”. The weasely bit of Gay et al.’s October 10 letter, which I suspect may have inspired the pushback, is this:

We have also heard an interest from many in understanding more clearly what has been happening in Israel and Gaza. Even as we attend immediately to the needs of our community members, we can take steps as an academic community to deepen our knowledge of the unfolding events and their broader implications for the region and the world. We expect there will be many such opportunities in the coming days and weeks.

We have no illusion that Harvard alone can readily bridge the widely different views of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but we are hopeful that, as a community devoted to learning, we can take steps that will draw on our common humanity and shared values in order to modulate rather than amplify the deep-seated divisions and animosities so distressingly evident in the wider world. Especially at such a time, we want to emphasize our commitment to fostering an environment of dialogue and empathy, appealing to one another’s thoughtfulness and goodwill in a time of unimaginable loss and sorrow.

“Shared values?” “Common humanity”? In view of what Hamas did, that would get my dander up. There is no bridging the views of Hamas and liberal and rational people, or even, perhaps, between the student groups who signed the blame-Israel letter and the Jewish students.  But I digress:

Here’s the response of Pinker et al., with the signers put below the fold.

Open letter to the Harvard Community

[Link to the letter: https://bit.ly/harvard-against-terrorism ]

We are faculty at Harvard who are deeply concerned about the events in the Middle East, as well as the safety of our students here on campus. On October 7th, Hamas launched a premeditated attack on the Israeli population. Hundreds of terrorists infiltrated Israeli towns and houses. Children were killed in front of their parents; entire families were executed. Grandmothers, mothers, and their babies were kidnapped. All in all, more than 900 Israelis were killed in a single day and the death toll is continuing to grow. There have also been deaths on the Palestinian side, including hundreds of terrorists and, tragically, civilians as well.

Every innocent death is a tragedy. Yet, this should not mislead us to create false equivalencies between the actions leading to this loss. Hamas planned and executed the murder and kidnapping of civilians, particularly women, children, and the elderly, with no military or other specific objective. This meets the definition of a war crime.  The Israeli security forces were engaging in self-defense against this attack while dealing with numerous hostage situations and a barrage of thousands of rockets hidden deliberately in dense urban settings.

The leaders of the major democratic countries united in saying that “the terrorist actions of Hamas have no justification, no legitimacy, and must be universally condemned” and that Israel should be supported “in its efforts to defend itself and its people against such atrocities.“ In contrast, while terrorists were still killing Israelis in their homes,  35 Harvard student organizations wrote that they hold “the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence,” with not a single word denouncing the horrific acts by Hamas. In the context of the unfolding events, this statement can be seen as nothing less than condoning the mass murder of civilians based only on their nationality. We’ve heard reports of even worse instances, with Harvard students celebrating the “victory” or “resistance” on social media.

 As a University aimed at educating future leaders, this could have been a teaching moment and an opportunity to remind our students that beyond our political debates, some acts such as war crimes are simply wrong. However, the statement by Harvard’s administration fell short of this goal. While justly denouncing Hamas, it still contributed to the false equivalency between attacks on noncombatants and self-defense against those atrocities. Furthermore, the statement failed to condemn the justifications for violence that come from our own campus, nor to make it clear to the world that the statement endorsed by these organizations does not represent the values of the Harvard community.  How can Jewish and Israeli students feel safe on a campus in which it is considered acceptable to justify and even celebrate the deaths of Jewish children and families?

We recognize that Harvard has students and community members from all regions, including from the Gaza Strip. These are not easy times, and we pray for the safety of all our members and their families. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has a long and complex history. We hold varying opinions, but none of us endorses all of Israel’s past actions. However, the events of this week are not complicated. Sometimes there is such a thing as evil, and it is incumbent upon educators and leaders to call it out, as they have with school shootings and terrorist attacks. It is imperative that our academic leadership, whose good faith we do not doubt, state this clearly and unequivocally. Further, while individuals’ free speech should be protected, our leaders should make it clear that our community rejects any statements that excuse terrorist acts.

We stand with any member of the Harvard community who feels unsafe or alone and pledge to do what we can individually and collectively. We hold our hope for better days in the future.  To quote President Obama,  “As we support Israel’s right to defend itself against terror, we must keep striving for a just and lasting peace for Israelis and Palestinians alike.”

Bravo! I especially like this bit:

. . . the events of this week are not complicated. Sometimes there is such a thing as evil, and it is incumbent upon educators and leaders to call it out, as they have with school shootings and terrorist attacks.

This group letter was surely written before President Gay condemned the statement by the student organizations, but much if it is still a useful corrective to students and faculty throughout the West who continue to promulgate false equivalence.  I suspect that President Gay issued her new statement after she saw what her faculty wrote.

My one issue: the group letter above is asking Harvard to violate the Kalven report (to which it doesn’t adhere anyway) by condemning Hamas’s attacks. But since Harvard has repeatedly issued official statements taking political and ideological sides, Larry Summers is right: it’s now incumbent on Harvard, once they’ve done that, to condemn terrorism and state clearly what happened in Israel.  This is not a good start for the new president of Harvard.

h/t: Bryan

Click “continue reading” to see the signatories.

Signatories [to the faculty letter]

(List periodically updated, if you are a Harvard faculty or scholar, please consider signing this letter by contacting the organizers. For questions about this letter contact Boaz Barak, Jeffrey Flier, Barbara Grosz, Gabriel Kreiman, or Steven Pinker.  )

Joanna Aizenberg – Amy Smith Berylson Prof. Of Materials Science and Prof of Chemistry and Chemical Biology

Anurag Anshu – Assistant Professor, SEAS

Michael Apstein, MD – Assistant Professor, Harvard Medical School

Sarah Ballou – Assistant Professor, Harvard Medical School

Oren Bar-Gill – Professor, Harvard Law School

liron bar-peled – Assistant Professor, HMS Medicine

Boaz Barak – Professor of Computer Science

Michael Baym – Assistant Professor of Biomedical Informatics, Harvard Medical School

Lucian Bebchuk – Professor of Law, Economics, and Finance, Harvard Law School

Anke Becker – Assistent Professor, Harvard Business School

Shai Bernstein – Professor, Harvard Business School

Stephen Blacklow – Gustavus Adolphus Pfeiffer Professor and Chair, Harvard Medical School

Alan Bonder – GI faculty at BIDMC

Richard Born – Professor of Neurobiology, HMS

Danielle Braun – Principal Research Scientist, HSPH/DFCI

Jeff Bussgang – Senior Lecturer, Harvard Business School

Fernando Camargo – Professor, Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology

Brendan Case – Lecturer, Harvard Divinity School

Elliot Chaikof – Johnson and Johnson Professor of Surgery, Harvard Medical School, Chair of Surgery, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

Adam Cheifetz – Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School

Marcy Cheifetz – Clinical Lecturer, Associate Site Director at Atrius Health for BIDMC HMS POM Course  

Sitan Chen – Assistant Professor, SEAS

Gabriel Chodorow-Reich – Professor of Economics

Stirling Churchman – Harvard Medical School

Shaye J.D. Cohen – professor/NELC/

Phil Cole – Professor of Medicine and BCMP, HMS

Amy Herman Comander – Harvard Medical School

Flynn Cratty – Lecturer on History, History Department

Matthew Crowson, M.D. – Assistant Professor, Harvard Medical School

Elliana DeVore – Resident, Mass Eye and Ear

Myron Falchuk – Harvard Medical School

Gary Fleisher – Professor of Pediatrics, HMS/Children’s Hospital

Jeffrey Flier – Professor of Medicine and former Dean, Harvard Medical School

Sarah Flier – Assistant Professor, Harvard Medical School

Jonathan Frankle – Associate in Computer Science (SEAS)

Steven Freedman – Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School

Jesse Fried – Professor, Harvard Law School

Jeffry Frieden – Stanfield Professor of International Peace, FAS, Department of Government

Elizabeth Gaufberg – Associate Professor of Medicine and Psychiatry

Eli V. Gelfand, M.D. – Assistant Professor of Medicine, HMS

Samuel Gershman – Professor of Psychology, FAS

Jordan Glicksman – Lecturer, Harvard Medical School

Tessa Goldsmith – Speech Pathologist MGH

Paul Gompers – Eugene Holman Professor, Harvard Business School

Yannai A. Gonczarowski – Assistant Professor of Economics and of Computer Science

Yonatan Grad – Associate Professor, HSPH

Jerry R. Green – Economics Department (FAS) and HBS

Michael E. Greenberg – Harvard Medical School

Jerome Groopman – Recanati Professor HMS

Laurie Grossberg – Assistant Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School

Barbara Grosz – Higgins Research Professor of Natural Sciences, SEAS

James Hankins – Professor of History

Omar Sultan Haque – Lecturer, Harvard Medical School

Stephen Harrison – Professor, Harvard Medical School

Elhanan Helpman – Galen L. Stone Professor of International Trade

Joseph Henrich – Professor, FAS, HEB

Jennifer Hochschild – Professor, FAS

Rafael A Irizarry – Professor of Biostatistics, Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health

Stein B Jacobsen – Professor, Faculty of Arts and Sciences

Vickie Jo – Associate Professor of Pathology, Harvard Medical School

Caroline Jouhourian, MD – HMFP

Harald Jueppner – Professor of Pediatrics

Barbara Kahn, MD – George Minot Professor, Harvard Medical School

Naama Kanarek – BCH, Assistant Professor

Robert S Kaplan – Senior Lecturer and Professor, Emeritus; Harvard Business School

Joshua Kertzer – John Zwaanstra Professor of International Studies and of Government

Allon M Klein – Associate Professor of Systems Biology, Harvard Medical School

Isaac Kohane – Professor, Harvard Medical School

Scott Duke Kominers – Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School

Petros Koumoutsakos – Professor, SEAS

John Kovac – Professor of Astronomy and of Physics

Boris Kozinsky – Associate Professor, Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

Gabriel Kreiman – Professor, Children’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School

Josh Krieger – Associate Professor, Harvard Business School

Andrew Kruse – Professor, Harvard Medical School

Galit Lahav – Professor and Chair of Systems Biology, HMS

Andrew Lassar – Professor, Harvard Medical School

Daniel Leffler, MD – Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School

Margo Levine – Co-Director of Undergraduate Studies, Applied Math, SEAS

Harry Lewis – Gordon McKay Research Professor of Computer Science, SEAS

Shengwu Li – Associate Professor, Economics

Ofrit Liviatan – Lecturer, FAS Department of Government

Avi Loeb – Baird Professor of Science, Director of Institute for Theory & Computation, Harvard University

Joseph Loscalzo – Professor, Harvard Medical School

Bertha Madras – Professor, Harvard Medical School

Joseph Madsen – Professor of Neurosurgery, Harvard Medical School

Harvey C. Mansfield – Research Professor of Government, FAS

Eleftheria Maratos-Flier – Professor Emerita, Harvard Medical School

Richard J McNally – Professor, FAS

Simon C. Robson MD, PhD. – Professor of Anesthesia and Medicine

Douglas Pleskow MD – Harvard Medical School

David Álvarez Melis – Assistant Professor of Computer Science

Jeffrey Meyerhardt – Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Professor of Medicine

Matthew Meyerson – Professor of Genetics and Medicine, Harvard Medical School

James Moran – Professor, emeritus, FAS (astronomy dept)

Venkatesh N. Murthy – Professor of Molecular & Cellular Biology, FAS

Matthias Nahrendorf – Professor of Radiology, HMS

Ramesh Narayan – Thomas Dudley Cabot Professor of the Natural Sciences, Astronomy (FAS)

Sergey Naumenko – Research Associate, Harvard Chan Bioinformatics Core

Kamila Naxerova – Harvard Medical School, Assistant Professor

Eric Nelson ’99 – Robert M. Beren Professor of Government, FAS

Luke J. O’Connor – Member of the Faculty, Harvard Medical School

Jennifer Oyler-Yaniv – Assistant Professor, Harvard Medical School

Alon Oyler-Yaniv – Lecturer in Systems Biology, Harvard Medical School

Umut Ozcan – Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Boston Children’s Hospital/HMS

Eliezer Peli – Professor HMS

Lev Perelman – Professor, HMS

Rabbi Jonah Pesner – Visiting Scholar, Harvard Divinity School

Nate Jowett MD PhD – Assistant Professor of Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery

Steven Pinker – Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology

Frederic Preffer – Professor of Pathollogy Harvard Medical School

Mark Ramseyer – Professor, Harvard Law School

Lisa Randall – Physics

Yogesh Rathi – Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Radiology, Harvard Medical School

David Reich – Professor of Genetics Harvard Medical School, Professor of Human Evolutionary Biology at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences

Jeremy Richmon – MD, school of medicine

Barak Ringel – MD, Harvard Medical School

Michael S. Rogers – Assistant Professor, Harvard Medical School

Kenneth Rogoff – Professor FAS

Evan Rosen – Professor, Harvard Medical School

Gary Ruvkun – Professor of Genetics

Peter Sadow – Associate Professor of Pathology, Harvard Medical School

Jeffrey E. Saffitz – Professor of Pathology, Harvard Medical School

Yael Hoffman Sage, MD MPH – Instructor, Brigham and Women’s Hospital

Matt Sampson – Associate Professor Harvard Medical School, Boston Children’s

Joshua R Sanes – Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology

Clifford Saper – Professor, HMS

Todd W. Sarge – Assistant Professor of Anaesthesia, Harvard Medical School

David Scadden – Professor of Medicine, HMS; Professor of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology, FAS

Richard M. Schwartzstein, MD – Harvard Medical School, Professor of Medicine

Thomas Schwarz – Professor, Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital

Arthur Segel – Baker Foundation Professor of Management Practice, Poorvu Family Professor, , Harvard Business School

Ayellet Segre – Assistant Professor, Department of Ophthalmology

Matthew Shair – Professor FAS

Matthew D. Shair – Professor, Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology

Eugene Shakhnovich – Roy G  Gordon Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology FAS

Irwin Shapiro – University Professor, FAS

Arlene Sharpe – Professor, Harvard Medical School

Steven Shoelson – Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School

Christine Smith – Robert C. and Marion K. Weinberg Professor of Architectural History, Graduate School of Design

Haim Sompolinsky – Professor of Physics and of Neuroscience (in Residence)

Andrew Strominger – Gwill E. York Professor of Physics

Jack Strominger – Higgins Professor of Biochemistry Emeritus

Lawerence H. Summers – Charles W. Eliot University Professor

Cliff Tabin – Professor and Chair of Genetics, Harvard Medical School

Daniel Talmor – HMS Edward Lowenstein Professor of Anaesthesia

Tomer Ullman – Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology

Salil Vadhan – Professor of Computer Science & Applied Mathematics, School of Engineering & Applied Sciences

Charles CY Wang – Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School

Daniel Weinstock – Director for Master’s Education, SEAS

Justin Werfel – Senior Research Fellow, SEAS

Christopher Winship – Diker-Tishman Professor of Sociology

Ruth Wisse – Prof emerita NELC and Comp Lit

Jacqueline Wolf – Associate Professor of Medicine; Harvard Medical School

Jeremy Wolfe – Professor of Ophthalmology and Radiology, Havard Medical School

Rabbi David Wolpe – Divinity School

Amir Yacoby – Professor of Physics and Applied Physics

Kerstin Zanger – Assistant Professor, Harvard Medical School

Mark Zeidel – HMS


10 thoughts on “Harvard weasels on the Israel/Palestine conflict; many of its scholars push back

  1. But she doesn’t really condemn the student groups directly, even in the second statement. She doesn’t say the student groups’ statement was inflammatory, it’s merely implied. That’s again a weak statement, IMO.

  2. But have you seen the statement from Cornell president:


    Basically, she is saying that a lot of bad shit is happening on both sides, but bad shit happens all over the world, so nothing special about Gaza bad shit so why should she feel pressured to say anything.

    It was so pathetic that she was forced to generate a follow-up statement


    I guess she just forgot (hardly worth mentioning really) that killing babies is wrong.

  3. Thank you to the Harvard faculty members who stood up to write and sign this letter.

    The Gay et al. October 9 letter (the first letter, the “weasely” one) is terrible. Harvard leadership is trying to have it both ways. That is not leadership. Leaders would recognize that there only is one response that has any moral standing: a complete and unequivocal condemnation of Hamas and its supporters, including the members of those student groups who wrote their disgusting letter of October 8. The Harvard leadership has failed.

    The second Harvard letter, October 10, doesn’t erase the first letter. It underscores that the administration’s first inclination was to avoid insulting those members of the Harvard community who support Hamas terrorists. How can the second letter possibly atone for the first?

  4. I applaud every Harvard faculty member for unequivocally condemning the mediaeval barbarity perpetrated by Hamas, and the disgusting statement of the student associations, and the weaselly FIRST statement bromide issued by President Gay. She should be ashamed and deserves to be tarred and feathered and paraded across the Quad — this from a supposedly educated BLACK and first FEMALE president of the university? One’d would have thought that as a POC she’d have a strong sense of moral opprobrium. Or is the POC voice only to be heard when #BLM proponents cry racism and demand “defund the police?” Harvard has gone WOKE — it better change its motto from VERITAS to FALSITAS. SHAME ON YOU PIECES OF S_______. If I were a Harvard alum, I’d call each and every Board of Overseers member, including the Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown, and lacerate them with every verbal four-letter word.

    1. Dave, that is the bigotry of low expectations to think that Claudine Gay would have a sense of moral opprobrium just because she’s a black woman. She’s president of Harvard just because she’s a black woman but that’s about as far as it goes.

  5. You make the most important point here: there is a lack of shared values. It’s more important to fight against incompatible values (aka evil) than to make mealy-mouthed invocations of shared values. Condemning Hamas/Islam should be no different than condemning pedophilia, forced labor, rape, industrial pollution, etc.

  6. The Kalven report includes this exception to the principle of neutrality:
    “From time to time instances will arise in which the society, or segments of it, threaten the very mission of the university and its values of free inquiry. In such a crisis, it becomes the obligation of the university as an institution to oppose such measures and actively to defend its interests and its values. ”
    I think violent religious extremism is one of those measures the university should oppose as an institution (and not just as a venue in which members of the university express their opposition) because that extremism threatens the mission of the university. Hamas zealots (including their supporters in western cities) would decolonize universities and kill the Jewish people who work there if they had the power to do so.

    [also yay edit is back!]

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