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Jo Malone and son respond to outcry over letter holding Israel ‘responsible’ for Hamas attacks

Perfume magnate and her son have insisted they reject the letter’s message

Martha McHardy
Wednesday 18 October 2023 13:41 BST
Jo Malone, Founder of Jo Malone perfume and candle brand.
Jo Malone, Founder of Jo Malone perfume and candle brand. (Alamy Stock Photo)

Perfume magnate Jo Malone and her Harvard student son have responded after outcry over a letter signed by 33 student organisations at Harvard University which held Israel “entirely responsible” for the attacks by Hamas terrorists.

The business woman’s 22-year-old son, Josh Willcox, was linked to a pro-Palestine Harvard student group which published the letter, causing Ms Malone’s own brand to publicly distance itself from its founder.

But now both Ms Malone and her son have insisted they reject the letter’s message.

The now-deleted letter argued 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 letter continued, describing Israel’s subsequent campaign in Gaza as “colonial retaliation.”

In a statement posted on Instagram, Mr Willcox addressed reports that he was an organiser for the Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee, and insisted he does not support the letter’s message.

“Over the past few days, we have seen horrific massacres in Israel and as I write this, we are seeing one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises unfold in Gaza,” he wrote.

“In contrast to the PSC open letter, I believe that anyone who inflicts violence on civilians is solely responsible for their actions. I therefore do not support the letter’s attribution of blame for Saturday’s attacks to Israel. Terrorism is never justified under any circumstances.

“My organizing has always been an explicit support of non-violent advocacy in the hope of achieving dignity for Palestinians living under an internationally-recognized Occupation. May we never stop advocating for the right of every individual to live a peaceful life of dignity,” he continued.

He added that he has “not been on the Harvard campus this semester and was not involved in the drafting or release of the letter.”

Last week, The Telegraph reported that Mr Willcox, 22, helps run the Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee, prompting social media users to issue calls to boycott Jo Malone London on X, formerly Twitter.

In response, the luxury brand released a statement, which read: “This is an extremely difficult time for everyone and please know we do not condone violence of any kind. At this time, we would like to clarify that Jo Malone the individual has not been affiliated with the Jo Malone London brand since 2006.

“We continue to lead with kindness.”

Ms Malone, in a statement to The Independent, condemned the violence in Gaza and Israel, describing the attacks as “horrendous”.

She said: “We as a family are heartbroken by the events of recent days and strongly condemn all forms of violence. The abhorrent attack on innocent people on Saturday in Israel is beyond what any family should endure. We again strongly condemn all forms of violence and those that incite it. We have always acted with a heart for people wanting always to strive towards a peaceful solution to any conflict.

“This is a horrendous moment in our history where innocent people are paying the greatest price with their lives. It is utterly heartbreaking and must stop. As a family our hearts goes out to all those suffering terrible losses at this time and we send untold gratitude to all those selflessly risking their lives for others.

Harvard University is one of many universities in the US embroiled in rows over anti-semitism (AP)

“We call upon all leaders to find a humanitarian resolution for all.”

It came after the letter, published on social media by Harvard students, prompted furious backlash, with Harvard professors and alumni calling on the university’s leadership to condemn the letter as well as Hamas.

Harvard’s President Claudine Gay issued a statement three days after the letter was published condemning the attacks and distancing the university’s 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.”

Billionaire Bill Ackman then called for the names of all Harvard students who signed the letter to be made public. Mr Ackman, CEO of Pershing Square Capital Management, said he did not want to “inadvertently hire” students who were part of the organisations.

Other executives, such as the CEOs of Sweetgreen and MeUndies, voiced their support for the effort, with Jonathan Shokrian of MeUndies comparing the ideas in the original letter to a “cancer”.

But Mr Ackman’s call later came under fire after a truck appeared near the Harvard campus, circling the university and displaying photos of Harvard students and organisations allegedly linked to the original statement.

A similar row broke out at the University of Pennsylvania, where two megadonors announced they would be halting their usual donations until members of the University’s leadership resigned, in protest over the college’s response to the Hamas attacks.

Yale, NYU, and Stanford have also been caught up in the escalating tensions.

Attacks in Israel and Gaza have seen more than 1,400 Israelis and 3,000 Palestinians killed since fighting broke out on 7 October when Hamas terrorists stormed across the Gaza border into Israel, killing hundreds of people and taking dozens captive.

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