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Romney and Klarman criticize Harvard over response to Israel-Hamas war

Palestinian Americans in Mass. worry for loved ones in Gaza
WATCH: As the war escalates between Israel & Hamas, metro digital editor Sahar Fatima shares how local families are living in fear for their loved ones abroad.

Five Harvard Business School alumni including US Senator and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and hedge fund manager Seth Klarman accused Harvard University of ignoring the safety of Jewish students amid pro-Palestinian protests on campus.

In an open letter published Monday, the alumni cited “threatening” demonstrations and said Jewish students have locked themselves in dorm rooms out of fear for their own safety. Romney, Klarman and three co-signers urged Harvard to “restate and enforce the university’s existing moral code of conduct” required of students, employees and faculty.

“Your silence as the situation intensifies is both astounding and frightening,” they wrote in an “Open Letter to Harvard Leadership Regarding Antisemitism on Campus” addressed to Claudine Gay, the university’s president, and other school leaders. “Given that Harvard has been vocal in its advocacy for the rights of students from other religious, racial and ethnic groups, this silence, amidst the meteoric rise in antisemitism, is deafening.”

The letter, also signed by Joanna Jacobson, Bill Helman and Mark Nunnelly, adds new fuel to the controversy swirling around Harvard over its handling of the fallout from escalating violence in the Mideast after Hamas’s attack on Israel earlier this month. Larry Summers, a former Harvard president, said he was outraged by Harvard’s initial silence after more than 30 student groups issued a statement blaming the attack on Israel and not Hamas, which is designated as a terrorist organization by the US and the European Union.

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Harvard declined to comment about the letter. In subsequent statements, Gay has condemned the terrorist atrocities perpetrated by Hamas. At an alumni reunion event Monday, she again condemned antisemitism and said she was “100 percent committed to making sure that Jewish life thrives here on our campus.”

Around 500 protesters supporting Palestinians walked out of class and marched through multiple Harvard schools last Thursday, according to the Harvard Crimson. The student newspaper said that was the third protest on campus in support of Palestinians following the start of the war in Israel and Gaza.

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“Free speech is to be respected but hatred, threats and violence against students and faculty are unequivocally prohibited,” they said.

In the letter, they urged Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Harvard to check the student IDs of protesters and bar any outsiders. Recently, the university temporarily blocked people without a Harvard ID from parts of the campus, but access isn’t currently restricted.

The alumni also said demonstrators shouldn’t be allowed to cover their faces. And they called for a semester-long course teaching “productive discourse, critical thinking and the interrogation of facts so students learn to debate through reasoned inquiry.”

Klarman, who heads the Baupost Group, and his wife, Beth, donated money for a building at Harvard Business School named in their honor. He and the other alumni didn’t discuss donations in their letter. Romney, a Utah Republican who previously served as governor of Harvard’s home state of Massachusetts, co-founded and led Boston-based Bain Capital before starting his political career. He was the Republican presidential candidate in 2012.

At least two billionaire donors, Idan Ofer and Leslie Wexner, have pulled their support from Harvard.

Harvard isn’t the only college US college campus that’s been embroiled in controversies about the war. Donors at the University of Pennsylvania have called for the president to resign, while Stanford University suspended a teacher over allegations that students were targeted for their identities amid the Mideast conflict.

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Dana Gerber of the Globe staff contributed to this report.