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Bill Ackman calls for Harvard grads to be blacklisted over letter holding Israel ‘responsible’ for attacks

A group of 33 student organisations at Harvard University signed a letter arguing that Israel’s ‘apartheid regime’ created the impetus for the war

Martha McHardy,Josh Marcus
Thursday 12 October 2023 14:31 BST
Harvard Students' Pro-Palestinian Statement Spark Outrage From Alum

Billionaire Bill Ackman has called for the release of the names of all Harvard students who signed a letter holding Israel “entirely responsible” for the attacks by Hamas terrorists this week – so that the prospective hires can be blacklisted from top Wall Street firms.

A group of 33 student organisations at Harvard University, led by the Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee, released a statement on social media on Saturday arguing that Israel’s “apartheid regime” created the impetus for the war.

“Today’s events did not occur in a vacuum,” the letter read. “For the last two decades, millions of Palestinians in Gaza have been forced to live in an open-air prison.”

“The apartheid regime is the only one to blame,” the group added, describing Israel’s subsequent campaign in Gaza as “colonial retaliation.”

The letter sparked an instant backlash and now hedge fund CEO Bill Ackman is leading calls for the names of the signatories to be released to the public.

In a post on X, Mr Ackman said that he has been approached by “a number of CEOs” asking for the names of the student organisations to ensure “none of us inadvertently hire any of their members”.

He argued the names should be released to the public because students “should not be able to hide behind a corporate shield when issuing statements supporting the actions of terrorists, who, we now learn, have beheaded babies, among other inconceivably despicable acts”.

The billionaire’s call was supported by a number of other company leaders, including Jonathan Neman, the CEO and co-founder of healthy fast-casual chain Sweetgreen, healthcare services company EasyHealth CEO David Duel, and DoveHill Capital Management CEO Jake Wurza.

But Mr Ackman’s request did not receive universal support. CEO Stephen Sullivan cautioned against putting college students’ names on a list, writing people should “be angry at the administration and teachers”.

The letter signed by Harvard students quickly stirred up controversy after it was published on 7 October – the same day Hamas militants launched a surprise attack into Israel.

Harvard alumni and professors were among those slamming the letter, with former Harvard president and Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers saying he had never been more “disillusioned and alienated” with Harvard.

Billionaire Bill Ackman has called for the names of the Harvard students who signed a letter holding Israel “entirely responsible” for war with Hamas to be released (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

“The silence from Harvard’s leadership, so far, coupled with a vocal and widely reported student groups’ statement blaming Israel solely, has allowed Harvard to appear at best neutral towards acts of terror against the Jewish state of Israel,” he wrote on X.

“To be clear nothing is wrong with criticizing Israeli policy past, present or future,” he added. “I have been sharply critical of PM Netanyahu. But that is very different from lack of clarity regarding terrorism.”

Former Harvard Medical School Dean Jeffrey Flier called on the university to issue a statement denouncing Hamas, while the university’s Jewish center Harvard Hillel, argued the statement contributed to “further hatred and anti-Semitism”.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz, a Harvard alum, also took a critical stance towards the student statement.

“What the hell is wrong with Harvard?” he wrote on X. “Given the choice between standing with Israel or supporting terrorists who are raping, kidnapping & killing thousands of women & children…31 student groups choose the terrorists. Their blazing hatred & antisemitism utterly blinding.”

Harvard president Claudine Gay released a statement condemning the Hamas attacks and distancing herself and Harvard University leadership from the letter.

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

More than 1,600 people, including at least 900 Israelis and 765 Gazans, have so far been killed since fighting broke out on Saturday, with thousands more believed to be injured and the number of individuals taken hostage by Hamas is currently unclear.

At least 14 American citizens are among the dead, President Joe Biden said on Tuesday.

Hamas terrorists stormed into Israel early on Saturday morning, killing hundreds of people and taking dozens captive across the Gaza border.

Hamas militants reportedly killed babies and “decapitated” women, according to Israeli officials.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately declared a state of war and promised “mighty vengeance” on Israel’s attackers.

A wounded donkey sits amid the rubble in a ravaged neighbourhood in the Gaza Strip (AFP via Getty Images)

On Monday, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant ordered the “complete siege” of Gaza, saying authorities would cut electricity and block the entry of food and fuel.

Human rights experts warn this will have devastating consquences in Gaza on top of continued Israeli strikes on areas filled with civilians.

The head of the Gaza Energy Authority warned on Wednesday that the region is set to run out of fuel within hours.

Human rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have concluded that Israel is committing the crime of apartheid and crimes against humanity against Palestine for the country’s systematic occupation of Palestinian lands, its support for illegal settlements in the West Bank, and its institution of laws that create ethnic and religious inequalities and segregation.

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