Cambridge cut

Wexner Foundation cuts ties with Harvard over ‘dismal failure’ to condemn Hamas’ terrorist attacks

Leaders of the organization, which has sent more than 250 Israeli civil servants to study at the university, say its ‘core values’ no longer align with the institution

The Wexner Foundation announced on Monday that it is cutting ties with Harvard University over “the dismal failure of Harvard’s leadership to take a clear and unequivocal stand against the barbaric murders of innocent Israeli civilians by terrorists last Saturday.” 

More than 250 Israelis have graduated from the long-standing and prestigious Wexner Foundation Fellowship, which includes a period of study at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of government. These alumni have often gone on to hold high-ranking positions in the Israeli civil service and in government, including Knesset members, Israel Defense Forces generals, top state prosecutors and others.

A letter from the foundation to Harvard Board of Overseers severing ties goes on to say that many Israel fellows “feel abandoned” by the university.

Signed by the Ohio-based Wexner Foundation’s president, Rabbi B. Elka Abrahamson, Director General in Israel Ra’anan Avital and chairs Abigail and Leslie Wexner, the letter urges Harvard’s administration to express support for Israel and unequivocally condemn the Hamas terror group as a number of other universities have done. 

“Other university presidents have said precisely what we should have heard immediately from President [Claudine] Gay,” they wrote, citing Ben Sasse, the president of the University of Florida, who said in a statement yesterday: “What Hamas did was evil and there is no defense for terrorism. This shouldn’t be hard.”

“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 organization’s leadership wrote. “Our core values and those of Harvard no longer align. 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 foundation added that it would still work toward its overall mission of “[developing] new strategies and initiatives to develop Israel’s civil service leaders,” but that it is “formally ending its financial and programmatic relationships with Harvard and the Harvard Kennedy School.”

Jeremy Burton, executive director of Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, told eJewishPhilanthropy that “this last week has been clarifying regarding the moral compass of academia in America and whether spaces like HKS are still safe for Israeli and Jewish students. And, the Israelis and Jews who are closest to HKS and in the longest partnership are saying it’s not safe for them anymore.” 

The controversy over Harvard’s response comes as a letter signed last week by 31 student organizations at Harvard published on social media claimed Israel is “entirely responsible” for Hamas terrorists’ murder of 1,400 Israelis. 

Gay and other university leaders said days later in a statement that the school is “heartbroken by the death and destruction unleashed by the attack by Hamas” but did not mention the students’ letter or condemn it. Still, several Harvard alums have called on the school to show solidarity with Israel. 

On Sunday, Yossi Sagol, chairman of Sagol Holdings Corporation and a 2008 Harvard Business School alum, threatened to pull funding if Harvard doesn’t change course. Israeli billionaire Idan Ofer and his wife, Batia, announced on Friday they are quitting Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government executive board in protest over how university leaders have responded to the massacre.  

Jewish Insider Washington correspondent Gabby Deutch contributed reporting.