Ivy League universities react to Israel-Hamas war
The eight universities have endured varying crimes, protests and public controversies since the start of the war.
Since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war on Oct. 7, all eight Ivy League universities have released statements pertaining to the conflict.
In recent weeks, several Ivy League institutions have become embroiled in controversy over statements perceived on the conflict as too weak or vague, with some alumni accusing their alma mater of “a failure to … stand against hate.” Cornell University, Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania have seen some donors withdraw funding in retribution for the schools’ responses to the war. Multiple Ivy League universities have also experienced incidents of anti-Palestinian and antisemitic attacks.
Brown University President Christina Paxson released a statement on Oct. 10 sharing mental health resources with the Brown community. Paxson’s statement was criticized by Brown Students for Justice in Palestine for being complicit in the “Israeli apartheid regime.”
Other student groups also released statements on the conflict. Brown Students for Israel wrote that it would stand with Israel, noting that it is“defending itself with all its strength, as it must.” Meanwhile, Brown Students for Justice in Palestine wrote that “the Israeli regime and its allies [are] unequivocally responsible for all suffering and loss of life, Palestinian or Israeli.”
On Nov. 8, 20 students were arrested after refusing to leave a sit-in protest on campus. Brown Students for Justice in Palestine and BrownU Jews for Ceasefire Now called for the administration to issue a statement in favor of a ceasefire and to divest from “companies that enable war crimes in Gaza.” The students were charged with willful trespassing.
Columbia President Minouche Shafik released an initial statement on Oct. 9, in which she said that she was “devastated by the horrific attack on Israel.” She noted that “at this moment, little is certain except that the fighting and human suffering are not likely to end soon.” Shafik released two additional statements, with the New York Times calling “each more pointed than the one before.”
Also on Oct. 9, student group Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine released an open letter expressing “the inevitability of resistance as part of the struggle for decolonization.”
“Despite the odds against them, Palestinians launched a counter-offensive against their settler-colonial oppressor — which receives billions of U.S. dollars annually in military aid,” the statement wrote.
As of Nov. 5, the letter had been signed by 1,241 Columbia and Barnard College affiliates. 480 faculty members signed a statement accusing the open letter of “try[ing] to legitimize an organization that shares none of the University’s core values of democracy, human rights or the rule of law.”
On Nov. 10, Columbia’s chair of the special committee on campus safety Gerald Rosberg announced that pro-Palestinian student groups Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voices for Peace were being suspended for the rest of the fall term. Rosberg wrote that the two groups “repeatedly violated University policies related to holding campus events.”
According to the New York Post, the campus has also endured recent controversy related to statements by professor Joseph Massad, who has been accused of “condoning and supporting terrorism” and who reportedly referred to Hamas’s actions as “awesome.” Columbia students and faculty have circulated dueling petitions, one in condemnation of Massad and one in support of him, which have both been widely signed at the university.
The Columbia Spectator has reported that on Oct. 11, a 19-year-old female suspect assaulted an Israeli student at Columbia’s School of General Studies outside the university’s library. CBS News has reported that on Oct. 19, a Columbia student yelled an antisemitic phrase at a second-year law student.
Cornell University President Martha Pollack released an initial statement expressing “horror, sadness and concern” at Hamas’s attacks on Oct. 10. Later that day, Pollack issued a follow-up statement condemning “the atrocities committed by Hamas” as acts of terrorism and apologized for her omission in her initial announcement.
On Oct. 15, Cornell history professor Russell Rickford spoke at a pro-Palestinian rally at the Ithaca Commons. Rickford said that he was initially “exhilarated” by Hamas’s attack, later adding that “Hamas has changed the terms of the debate” and “nothing will be the same again.” In an interview with the Cornell Daily Sun, Rickford clarified that his comments referred to the fact that “the Palestinian will to resist had not been broken.” Pollack condemned Rickford’s comments as “direct opposition to all we stand for at Cornell,” adding that the university is reviewing the incident.
On Oct. 28 and Oct. 29, anonymous posts to the site GreekRank threatened to kill Jewish students and carry out a shooting at 104West!, Cornell’s Center for Jewish Living. The Cornell University Police Department responded with additional on-site security at 104West!.
On Oct. 31, New York State Police arrested 21-year-old Cornell student Patrick Dai, who was charged with “posting threats to kill or injure another using interstate communications.” Dai admitted to posting the messages in an interview with the FBI at the Cornell Police Department. He remains in custody and is awaiting trial.
Classes were canceled on Nov. 3 amidst increased tensions on campus. Prior to the cancellation, some professors had been offering virtual class options for students who affected by the current events.
A statement from Cornell University’s vice president for university relations Joel Malina condemned the threats and wrote that “Cornell Police will maintain its heightened security presence on campus as the university continues to focus on supporting the needs of our students, faculty and staff.”
College President Sian Leah Beilock released an initial statement on Oct. 10 in which she expressed “horror” and “deep sorrow” at the conflict. In a later statement, Beilock added that Hamas’s actions were “horrific terrorist attacks.”
Jewish student organizations Hillel at Dartmouth and the Rohr Chabad Center at Dartmouth co-hosted a candlelight vigil on Oct. 12, while the Palestine Solidarity Coalition and Al-Nur co-hosted an Oct. 19 memorial service.
Following the vigil, protesters began a sit-in outside of Parkhurst Hall in order to “bring attention to the Israel-Hamas War and call for Dartmouth’s divestment from ‘apartheid.’” This ended on the night of Oct. 27, after Hanover Police officers arrested two students for criminal trespassing.
Dartmouth Student Government president Jessica Chiriboga ’24 and vice president Kiara Ortiz ’24 released statements describing the arrests as “needless escalation.” On Oct. 30, student groups organized the “Student March for Freedom” to protest the arrests and show further support for Dartmouth’s divestment from “apartheid.”
On Oct. 9, Harvard University leadership released a statement offering support to the Harvard community. After receiving backlash for failing to condemn Hamas’s attacks, Harvard President Claudine Gay issued a second statement on Oct. 10 “condemning the terrorist atrocities perpetrated by Hamas.”
Gay’s second statement also responded to a statement authored by the Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee and co-signed by 33 other Harvard student groups. The joint statement wrote that it held “the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence.” Gay stated that “no student group — not even 30 student groups — speaks for Harvard University or its leadership.”
Later that week, a billboard truck displaying the faces and names of students allegedly associated with the groups that signed the joint statement drove through Harvard’s campus. Online sites also published personal information about the allegedly involved students. Following the doxxing incidents, several signatory groups withdrew their signatures from the joint statement.
Over 1,600 Harvard alumni have stated that they will withhold donations over concerns of antisemitism in the University. An open letter to Gay from members of the Harvard College Jewish Alumni Association criticized the student groups’ joint statement and called on the University to protect its Jewish students.
Princeton President Christopher Eisgruber released a statement on Oct. 10 calling Hamas’s actions “the most atrocious of terrorist attacks.” Eisgruber noted that “the University has reached out to students and other community members from Israel and the Palestinian territories.”
According to reporting from The Princeton Packet, the Center for Jewish Life and Princeton Chabad co-hosted an Oct. 12 vigil titled “Princeton Stands for Israel” on the university’s campus. The student group Princeton Students for Justice in Palestine hosted a separate vigil on Oct. 13.
The Daily Princetonian noted that “Princeton student organizations that typically organize in support of Palestine have remained relatively quiet compared to peer groups at Harvard and Columbia.”
Prior to the Hamas attack, U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., criticized Princeton for including “antisemitic and anti-Israel literature” in a course called “The Healing Humanities: Decolonizing Trauma Studies from the Global South.”
The University of Pennsylvania
Penn’s Office of the President released an initial statement regarding the war on Oct. 10 which called Hamas’s attack a “horrific assault” and “abhorrent.” The Office of the President released another statement on Oct. 15 which explicitly referred to Hamas’s actions as “terrorist acts,” and a third statement on Oct. 18, which added that Penn would “not tolerate…incitement to violence, or, of course, actual violence.”
The University of Pennsylvania has come under fire from some alumni over its failure to condemn the “Palestine Writes Literature Festival,” which took place on its campus from Sept. 22 to 24, prior to Hamas’s Oct. 7 attacks.
In anticipation of the event, a statement from Penn’s Office of the President on Sept. 12 acknowledged that many speakers featured at the festival had “a documented and troubling history of engaging in antisemitism.” While the statement “emphatically” condemned antisemitism, it added that “as a university, we fiercely support the free exchange of ideas.”
Billionaire donor Ronald Lauder said that he made a “special visit to Philadelphia” along with two phone calls to attempt to persuade Penn President Liz Magill to cancel the festival. In a letter to Magill, Lauder wrote that “the conference has put a deep stain on Penn’s reputation that will take a long time to repair.”
Several notable donors to Penn, including Lauder, Jon Huntsman Jr., David Magerman and Cliff Asness have pulled funding from the university since the beginning of the war.
On Nov. 1, over 20 members of Congress sent a letter to Magill condemning the school’s “message of indifference.” The letter said that Penn’s response “raises serious concerns about the institution’s moral compass.”
On Oct. 9, Yale secretary and vice president for university life Kimberly Goff-Crews released a statement “deeply mourn[ing] the loss of life.” The statement also included links to student mental health resources.
On Oct. 10, Yale President Peter Salovey released a statement calling Hamas’s actions a “terrorist attack.” Salovey added that “[he] condemn[s] the attacks on civilians by Hamas in the strongest possible terms.”
According to The Hartford Courant, Yale professor Zareena Grewal became the subject of controversy after she posted to X on Oct. 7 that “Israeli [sic] is a murderous, genocidal settler state and Palestinians have every right to resist through armed struggle.” A change.org petition urging Grewal’s removal from the Yale faculty currently has 56,227 signatures.
On Nov. 6, Yale faculty members held a panel discussion about the Israel-Hamas war entitled “Gaza Under Siege.” According to NBC Connecticut, “some students … felt as though organizers were being selective about who they were letting in [to the event].”
“A few… students who … weren't registered but wanted to attend the event were turned away. Some say they were also wearing Jewish garb, which they believe may have been a factor.”
According to The Yale Daily News, on Oct. 9, the phrase “death to Palestine” was found written on a whiteboard outside of a suite in Yale’s Grace Hopper College residential building. In response, the head of Grace Hopper College Julia Adams asked that students “adhere to accepted standards of mutual tolerance.”