A rally at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, shows support for Palestinians in Gaza, on Oct. 14, 2023. (Photo/Joseph Prezioso - AFP via Getty Images)
A rally at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, shows support for Palestinians in Gaza, on Oct. 14, 2023. (Photo/Joseph Prezioso - AFP via Getty Images)

Wexner breaks ties with Harvard, citing school’s ‘failure’ to condemn Hamas

This story was originally published in the ForwardClick here to get the Forward’s free email newsletters delivered to your inbox.

The Wexner Foundation on Monday ended a program that paid for Israelis to get master’s degrees at Harvard, citing the university’s “failure” to condemn Hamas.

“We are stunned and sickened at the dismal failure of Harvard’s leadership to take a clear and unequivocal stand against the barbaric murders of innocent Israeli civilians by terrorists,” the foundation said in a letter provided to the Forward and other media outlets.

The foundation accused Harvard President Claudine Gay and other university leaders of “tiptoeing” and “equivocating” rather than condemning Hamas’ attacks on Israeli civilians as “evil.”

Since its launch in 1989, the Wexner Israel Fellowship Program has paid for more than 500 Israelis to earn master’s degrees in public administration at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. The foundation provided tuition, expenses and living stipends for up to 10 Israelis a year who were mid-career public service or nonprofit professionals, and who’d been accepted to the MPA program.

The current class, which is the foundation’s 34th group of fellows, will be the last to receive Wexner support for their MPAs.

The Harvard controversy began when three dozen student groups calling themselves the Harvard Palestine Solidarity Groups published a statement holding “the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence.”

The group’s statement was published online just hours after Hamas launched surprise attacks on Oct. 7 that killed more than 1,400 Israelis. Some of the victims were young people at a music festival, others were families living on kibbutzim near Gaza. Hamas gunmen also abducted nearly 200 Israelis — including children.

Harvard’s president, Claudine Gay, did not immediately respond to the students’ manifesto, though she and 17 staff and faculty members later released a statement saying they were “heartbroken by the death and destruction unleashed by the attack by Hamas that targeted citizens in Israel this weekend, and by the war in Israel and Gaza now under way.”

The Wexner Foundation wrote that In the absence of a “clear moral stand” by the Harvard administration, the Kennedy school “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.”

Harvard did not immediately respond to an email from the Forward requesting comment.

Fellows were ‘shouted down’

The foundation’s letter to Harvard’s Board of Overseers also said the school’s “tolerance for diverse perspectives has slowly but perceptibly narrowed” to the point where Wexner fellows are “marginalized, their voices and views even shouted down.” The letter said Harvard had been unable to “craft a strategy to enable Israeli students to engage in productive — even if difficult — dialogue within the school.”

The Wexner Foundation’s decision follows Israeli billionaire Idan Ofer and his wife Batia stepping down from the Kennedy School’s executive board.

“Unfortunately, our faith in the University’s leadership has been broken and we cannot in good faith continue to support Harvard and its committees,” the couple said in a statement. Ofer is on the list of the world’s 100 richest people.

The Wexner Foundation was created by Leslie Wexner, an American billionaire whose businesses included Bath & Body Works and Victoria’s Secret. Wexner had close business ties with disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, who committed suicide while awaiting trial on sex-trafficking charges.

Beth Harpaz
Beth Harpaz

Beth Harpaz is a reporter for the Forward. She previously worked for the Associated Press, first covering breaking news and politics, then as AP Travel editor. Follow her @literarydj or email [email protected].