A philanthropist couple said Thursday they are stepping down from the Harvard Kennedy School executive board over the university’s response to the Hamas attacks that killed more than 1,300 Israelis and sparked retaliatory bombing that has claimed the lives of over 1,500 people in Gaza.
“It is with deep regret that we have made the decision to resign from the Harvard Kennedy School Dean’s Executive Board, effective immediately,” Idan and Batia Ofer wrote in a letter their family foundation shared with the Globe.
“Our decision to do so has been precipitated by the lack of clear evidence of support from the University’s leadership for the people of Israel following the tragic events of the past week, coupled with their apparent unwillingness to recognize Hamas for what it is, a terrorist organization,” the Ofers wrote.
Harvard declined to comment.
“With so much disinformation being spread by social media it is essential that the world’s great institutions speak with a clear and unequivocal voice at this critical time,” the Ofers wrote. “Our collaboration with the University has always been guided by our desire to promote peace in the Middle East and we have had a long and fruitful association to that end.”
But now, the Ofers continued, “our faith in the University’s leadership has been broken and we cannot in good faith continue to support Harvard and its committees.”
Idan Ofer, a shipping magnate, and Batia Ofer, an art collector, have spearheaded a scholarship program at the Kennedy School and donated “substantial funds” to support the institution, a foundation spokesperson said.
Harvard has faced controversy this week over an incendiary statement from roughly 30 student groups that appeared to justify Saturday’s terror attack against Israel, as well as an initial response from administrators that critics found lacking.
“Today’s events did not occur in a vacuum,” the students wrote. “For the last two decades, millions of Palestinians in Gaza have been forced to live in an open-air prison.”
“We, the undersigned student organizations, hold the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence,” the students added.
On Monday, university president Claudine Gay issued a statement with Harvard leaders that angered Jewish and Israeli students for not including an acknowledgment of the barbarity of the attack that saw militants kill civilians, including children, in their homes. The militants also took some 150 hostages.
On Tuesday, Gay issued a statement in her own name condemning Saturday’s attack as an act of terrorism and distancing the university from the student groups’ message.
“I condemn the terrorist atrocities perpetrated by Hamas,” she said.
Gay said 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 wrote. “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.”
In announcing their resignation, the Ofers, an Israeli couple currently living in London, denounced the student groups’ for what they said was an attempt to blame Israel for the Hamas attack.
“We denounce those who seek to place blame on the people of Israel for the atrocities committed by the terrorist organization, Hamas,” the Ofers wrote. “We pray for a brighter tomorrow, where there is a clear distinction between right and wrong.”
On Friday, Israel’s military told some 1 million Palestinians to evacuate northern Gaza and head to the southern part of the besieged territory, an unprecedented order applying to almost half the population ahead of an expected ground invasion against Hamas.
Israel has bombarded Gaza round-the-clock since the weekend attack in which Hamas fighters stormed into the country’s south and massacred hundreds. Already, at least 423,000 people — nearly one in five Gazans — have been forced from their homes by Israeli airstrikes, the United Nation said Thursday.
Material from the Associated Press and prior Globe stories was used in this report.
Travis Andersen can be reached at email@example.com.