Harvard president Claudine Gay released a video Thursday evening as the university reels from backlash following a pro-Palestinian statement signed by dozens of student groups holding Israel “entirely responsible” for Hamas’ terrorist attacks on the country and the subsequent violence unfolding in the region.
Gay’s video, which was titled “Our Choices,” began with her describing the Israel-Hamas war as a “moment of intense pain and grief for a great many people in our community and around the world,” to which she added that she is experiencing the same feelings.
She continued by saying members of the Harvard community have a choice to either “fan the flames of division and hatred” or to “try to be a force for something different and better.”
“People have asked me where we stand. So let me be clear. Our university rejects terrorism. That includes the barbaric atrocities perpetrated by Hamas. Our university rejects hate. Hate of Jews. Hate of Muslims. Hate of any group of people based on their faith, their national origin, or any aspect of their identity. Our University rejects the harassment or intimidation of individuals based on their beliefs,” Gay said.
On Saturday, not long after Hamas launched its unprecedented terrorist attacks on Israel, 34 student organizations signed a statement issued by the Harvard Palestine Solidarity Groups that began by blaming the “Israeli regime” for “all unfolding violence.”
It continued, “Today’s events did not occur in a vacuum. For the last two decades, millions of Palestinians in Gaza have been forced to live in an open-air prison. Israeli officials promise to ‘open the gates of hell,’ and the massacres in Gaza have already commenced. Palestinians in Gaza have no shelters for refuge and nowhere to escape. In the coming days, Palestinians will be forced to bear the full brunt of Israel’s violence.”
As of Wednesday, at least five of the groups had withdrawn their support of the statement.
After days of silence and nationwide backlash toward the university for not addressing the statement, Gay released a five-sentence message on Tuesday stating that she does condemn Hamas’ attacks, but she did not explicitly denounce the student groups’ controversial opinion.
Instead she wrote, “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.”
In Thursday’s message, Gay said that Harvard “embraces a commitment to free expression,” which “extends even to views that many of us find objectionable, even outrageous.” She said that though the university does not “punish or sanction” people for expressing polarizing views, it does not mean that it endorses them.
She continued: “We can issue public pronouncements, declaring the rightness of our own points of view and vilify those who disagree. Or we can choose to talk and to listen with care and humility, to seek deeper understanding and to meet one another with compassion.
“We can inflame an already volatile situation on our campus. Or we can focus our attention where it belongs on the unfolding tragedy thousands of miles away.
“We can ask ourselves how, as human beings, we can be helpful to people who are desperately trying to protect themselves and their families. People who are fighting to survive.”
Gay ended her video by saying she has seen the Harvard community “come together despite their differences” in the past, and she knows they are capable of meeting this moment and one another “with grace.”
As of Thursday night, more than 2,800 Israelis and Palestinians have been killed since Hamas launched its attack on Israel on Saturday. The death toll is expected to rise as Israeli forces reportedly prepare for a ground invasion of Gaza.