Billionaire hedge fund CEO Bill Ackman and several other business leaders are demanding that Harvard University release the names of students whose organizations signed a letter blaming only Israel for deadly Hamas attacks.
CEOs want blacklisted students. But some of those students have since distanced themselves from the letter.
“One should not be able to hide behind a corporate shield when posting statements supporting the actions of terrorists,” Ackman said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.
If members support the letter, the names of the signatories “should be made public so that their views are publicly known,” Ackman said. The CEO of Pershing Square Capital Management said he wants to make sure his firm and others don’t inadvertently hire students from Harvard groups who signed the letter.
Following backlash over the statement, some student groups have since withdrawn their support.
“I wish I knew so I never hire these people,” Jonathan Neman, CEO of the restaurant chain. Sweetgreen, said on X.
Neither Neman nor Ackman responded to requests for comment.
Others warn that naming students whose groups supported the statement could put students at risk and ignores differences of opinion within student groups.
Larry Summers, the famous economist who drew attention Monday to a Harvard student’s “morally unacceptable” statement, is now preaching caution.
“I yield to no one in my revulsion at the statement apparently made on behalf of over 30 students in the @Harcard group,” Summers said Wednesday afternoon. post on X. “But please, everyone, take a deep breath. Many members of these groups never saw the statement before it was released. In some cases, those approving did not understand exactly what they were approving of.
Summers, a former Harvard president and U.S. Treasury secretary, added that “some were probably naive and stupid.”
“This is not a time where it is constructive to defame individuals and I am sorry that this is happening,” Summers said.
Laurence Tribe, a Harvard professor and legal scholar, told CNN on Wednesday that he initially agreed with Ackman, but after reflection decided not to join the campaign to make their names public.
“A number of students who were involved in this misguided campaign probably didn’t even know there was a statement. Others probably didn’t focus on what they were signing, much less understand it,” Tribe said in an email. “As naive and stupid as they may have been, I now think it would be an overreaction to permanently penalize them by publishing their names and implying that they actually approved of what the terrorists did to innocent Israelis. »
Similarly, Stephen Sullivan, CEO of Meds.com, wrote that people should be “angry at the administration and teachers” but cautioned against putting students’ names on a list, according to Forbes.
Harvard University did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But Harvard President Claudine Gay issued a statement Tuesday saying that “no student group — not even 30 student groups — speaks for Harvard University or its leaders.”
The controversy follows a joint statement issued by a coalition of Harvard student groups following Hamas attacks that killed more than 1,000 Israelis and at least 14 American citizens.
“We, the undersigned student organizations, hold the Israeli regime fully responsible for all of the violence that is taking place,” the Harvard Palestine Solidarity Groups’ statement said.
The statement said millions of Palestinians in Gaza have been “forced to live in an open-air prison” and called on Harvard to “take action to end the ongoing annihilation of Palestinians.”
A footnote at the bottom of the statement said the names of the “original signatory organizations have been withheld at this time.”
Jake Wurzak, CEO of Dovehill Capital Management, said he believes the students who signed the letter should be named.
“Freedom of expression is essential. Words have meaning and students should not be allowed to hide behind an institution,” Wurzak said the.
According to the Harvard Crimson student newspaper, at least five of the 34 original signatories withdrew their support Tuesday evening.
For example, Harvard’s Nepalese Undergraduate Student Association said on Instagram that “we regret” that the decision to co-sign the statement was “interpreted as tacit support for recent violent attacks in Israel.”
“To ensure that our position on condemning Hamas violence and supporting a just peace remains clear, we are withdrawing our signatures from the declaration,” the Nepalese student group said.
Act on a Dream, a student group supporting immigrants, told the Crimson that the group signed the statement because of a “miscommunication and lack of due diligence in sharing the statement with the ‘entire board of directors’.
Others responded to Ackman saying that the students were unaware of the contents of the letter or that the groups they belonged to were signing the statement.
“No need for this level of harassment,” said Mohini Tangri, a student at Harvard Law School. said the in response to Ackman. Tangri said many student members had “no say” in whether their organization signed the letter.
Another Harvard student, Danielle Mikaelian, said she resigned from the board of a group that signed the statement on Israel and did not have a chance to read it until it’s not too late.
“I’m sorry for the pain this has caused. My organization didn’t have a formal process and I didn’t even see the statement before we signed,” Mikaelian posted on X.
Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, told CNN on Wednesday that he did not know whether it was wise to release the students’ names, but he called on the students to take responsibility for themselves.
“This is a shockingly offensive article and whoever signed it should either support it and face the consequences in life or step up, apologize and explain,” Greenblatt said. “That’s what we learn to do in elementary school. I have a hard time understanding why this is complicated for people at Harvard University.
Hear the world react to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
Separately, there was a reaction against a statement published by the president of the NYU Student Bar Association, saying that Israel “bears full responsibility for this enormous loss of life.”
This statement had immediate consequences, with the law firm Winston & Strawn quickly withdrawing a job offer to the NYU student who was previously a summer associate at the firm.
“These comments are deeply in conflict with the values of Winston & Strawn as a firm. As a result, the firm rescinded the law student’s employment offer,” the law firm said in a statement. post on. “Winston stands in solidarity with Israel’s right to exist in peace and condemns Hamas and the violence and destruction it has unleashed in the strongest possible terms.”
After criticism from Summers and others, Harvard President Claudine Gay said there should be “no doubt that I condemn the terrorist atrocities perpetrated by Hamas.”
“Such inhumanity is abhorrent, regardless of individual views on the origins of the region’s long-standing conflicts,” Gay said.
Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, dean of leadership studies at the Yale School of Management, told CNN on Wednesday that Jews have been “accused of being victims” for several centuries.
“Villains cannot be celebrated as heroes,” Sonnenfeld said in an email. “Anyone who does this cannot hide like a coward behind the shields of association titles any more than Nazi stormtroopers had the right to anonymity. Our society is founded on personal responsibility.
The Anti-Defamation League, in response to a “wave of anti-Semitism around the world” following attacks on Israel, called on CEOs on Wednesday to denounce hatred and sign a pledge to combat anti-Semitism.
The ADL said signatories include Accenture, Adidas and the NBA.
“For companies that have Jewish employees, Jewish customers, Jewish investors, Jewish shareholders, or just have a modicum of conscience, this should be easy,” Greenblatt, the ADL CEO, told CNN .
CNN’s Kristina Sgueglia and Sabrina Shulman contributed to this report.