- A major donor to Harvard Kennedy School has cut ties with the Ivy League university, alleging that the institution’s leaders have failed to take a “clear and unequivocal stand against” the Hamas attack on Israel earlier this month.
- In a Monday letter to Harvard’s Board of Overseers, its second-highest governing board, the Wexner Foundation said it was ending its 34-year relationship with the university. It accused Harvard’s leaders of “tiptoeing” and “equivocating” in their response to a recent statement signed by 30-plus student groups that held Israel entirely responsible for the violence.
- The decision will deal a blow to Harvard Kennedy School, which partnered with the Wexner Foundation in 1989 to create a fellowship that supports up to 10 public service professionals from Israel each year in their pursuit of a public administration master’s degree at the university. The current class of Wexner Israel Fellows will be the last to complete the master’s program, the letter said.
Harvard is one of many universities facing public criticism — and loss of donor funding — over its response to the latest Israel-Hamas war.
The University of Pennsylvania, a fellow Ivy League institution, recently lost the support of donor Jon Huntsman Jr. His family will cut off financial support because of the “the University’s silence in the face of reprehensible and historic Hamas evil,” Huntsman wrote in a recent email to the university’s president, according to The Daily Pennsylvanian, a student newspaper.
Hamas, a militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, attacked Israel Oct. 7. The group, which the U.S. considers a foreign terrorist organization, took nearly 200 hostages and killed more than 1,400 people, according to local authorities.
In response, Israel has declared war, cut off water and supply lines to Gaza and battered the region with airstrikes. At least 3,000 people in Gaza have been killed and over 12,000 have been injured, the Palestinian Ministry of Health said.
At Harvard, university student groups drew widespread condemnation of their statement earlier this month, which said they held “the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence.” The statement was penned by the Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee and co-signed by over 30 others groups, though some have since retracted their support for the letter.
Around that time, politicians, faculty, students — as well as former Harvard President Lawrence Summers — blasted the university as well, arguing that it took too long to issue an initial response to the Hamas attack and didn’t go far enough in condemning antisemitism, according to The Harvard Crimson, the university's student newspaper.
In its letter, the Wexner Foundation took a similar stance.
“In the absence of this clear moral stand, we have determined that the Harvard Kennedy School and The Wexner Foundation are no longer compatible partners,” the letter states. “HKS is no longer a place where Israeli leaders can go to develop the necessary skills to address the very real political and societal challenges they face.”
The letter was signed by the foundation’s president, its director general, and its board chairs — retail billionaire Leslie Wexner and his wife Abigail. The foundation says it is devoted to developing leaders in Israel and the North American Jewish community.
The Wexner Foundation gave Harvard $1.8 million in fiscal 2021 for the fellowship program, according to its latest publicly available tax form.
A Harvard Kennedy spokesperson said Tuesday that recent statements from its dean and the university’s president have made “clear our rejection of the terrorist atrocities perpetrated by Hamas.”
“We are grateful to the Wexner Foundation for its very longstanding support of student scholarships,” the spokesperson said.
Last week, Harvard President Claudine Gay released a video message condemning terrorism, including the “barbaric atrocities perpetrated by Hamas.”
“Our university rejects hate,” she said. “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.”
Gay also said the university rejects harassment of individuals based on their beliefs and doesn’t sanction people for expressing their views. Students associated with the groups that signed the letter have been subject to doxxing, according to media reports.