Three student leaders resigned from the Student Advisory Committee (SAC) of the Harvard Institute of Politics (IOP) on Friday, October 13, 2023. They wrote in a statement that they were “ashamed” that the committee decided against “publicly condemning the terrorist attacks on Israel” by Hamas, an Islamist militant group that invaded Israel on October 7, 2023.
The three students who resigned are Robert Fogel ’25 and Ryan P. Tierney ’24, co-chairs of the JFK Jr. Forum Committee, and Theo J. Harper ’25, chair of the Harvard Political Union (HPU). They said they could not continue to “in good conscience, serve on a collective body that chooses silence.”
According to their statement, only 17.9 percent of the SAC members voted to adopt a statement of any kind on the Israel-Hamas war. The SAC is a broader group of affiliated students making up program leadership, while the executive team consists of the body’s top elected leaders.
The SAC members were divided over the use of the word “terrorism” and the mention of Hamas
The three students who resigned said that issuing a statement should never have been an issue, citing past political statements by the SAC after events such as the police killing of George Floyd and Supreme Court rulings on abortion and affirmative action.
They said that after a series of deliberations between SAC members on issuing a statement that condemned the loss of civilian life in both Israel and Gaza, members grew divided over including the word “terrorism” and mentioning Hamas.
“Some claimed we should condemn ‘all terrorism,’ or not use the word ‘terrorism’ at all,” they wrote. “Others refused to name Hamas, a recognized terrorist organization whose most recent actions include executing children, raping women, and taking hostages.”
They also said that some SAC members argued that issuing a statement would alienate some students and faculty members who support Palestine.
The IOP executive team condemns the terrorist atrocities perpetrated by Hamas
The IOP executive team — Amen H. Gashaw ’24, IOP president; Pratyush Mallick ’25, IOP vice president; Carter G. Demaray ’25, treasurer; and Ethan C. Kelly ’25, communications director — issued a statement on Tuesday, October 14, 2023, in response to the controversy.
They said that they “unequivocally condemn all acts of terror and violence against civilians in Israel and Palestine” and are “unified in our deep sadness at the challenging events that have faced our campus.”
They also said that while students have the right to speak out, no student group speaks for Harvard or its leadership.
“We have no illusion that Harvard alone can readily bridge the widely different views of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but we are hopeful that, as a community devoted to learning, we can take steps that will draw on our common humanity and shared values in order to modulate rather than amplify the deep-seated divisions and animosities so distressingly evident in the wider world,” they wrote.
The Harvard College Palestine Solidarity Committee blames Israel for the war
The controversy over the SAC’s decision came after another letter from the Harvard College Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC), signed by dozens of student groups at Harvard, blamed Israel for the war and called it an “apartheid regime” that forces Palestinians to live in an “open-air prison” in Gaza.
The letter also called on Harvard’s community to stop the “annihilation of Palestinians” and urged students to boycott Israeli products and divest from companies that support Israel.
The letter sparked backlash from many people who criticized it as biased and hateful. Among them was former Harvard President and economist Larry Summers, who called it “depraved” and “a complete lack of not just understanding but of empathy.”
The PSC said that it postponed a planned vigil due to “credible safety concerns and threats against student security.”