Alumni condemn University’s response to Hamas attack

Over 1,800 Stanford affiliates signed an open letter expressing disappointment in President Richard Saller and Provost Jenny Martinez’s response to the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel over their failure to condemn Hamas’ actions.

The surprise attack left more than 1,400 Israelis dead, with Hamas taking more than 220 people hostage, according to reporting from the New York Times. Women, children and the elderly were massacred in kibbutzim located near the Gaza Strip in southern Israel. Since then, over 8,000 people have been killed in Gaza, including more than 3,000 children, according to the Times.

Signatories of the open letter to Saller and Martinez include alumni, faculty, staff, students and parents, with a significant portion coming from the Graduate School of Business (GSB). Their letter joins one sent by dozens of faculty weeks ago. 

Kfir Gavrieli ’04 MS ’05, MBA ’08 said this open letter was sent to administration directly on Oct. 24 and made public the next day. It references statements made by Saller and Martinez on Oct. 9 and Oct. 11 about the attack.

Like other university leaders who were pushed to revise their initial statement, Saller and Martinez failed to condemn Hamas in their first statement. According to the signatories of the open letter, they feel the administration has not yet fulfilled its duties. 

In part dedicated to recounting a number of antisemitic incidents at Stanford in the past few weeks, the letter calls on the University to take “every measure necessary to uproot antisemitism and ensure the safety of Israeli and Jewish students on campus.” It also supports a ban on rallies or events that “condone terrorist attacks.”

Frustration comes through in the letter, whose authors write that “Absent a complete turnaround, the alumni and donors among the undersigned feel morally obliged to cease any engagement with the University.” This follows several campaigns at other institutions, like Penn, which has lost tens of millions of dollars over its response to the attack.

Stanford has failed “to clearly condemn Hamas’ barbarism and those who celebrate it,” according to the letter. It furthers express dissatisfaction with Stanford’s appeal to neutrality, despite the claim in Stanford’s original statement that the “University as an institution does not take positions on geopolitical issues and news events.” Recent examples cited by the letter show Stanford taking a position on numerous geopolitical and news events, including the murder of George Floyd in 2020 and the invasion of Ukraine by Russia on Feb. 24, 2022.

“The task is for the administration of the university to use its leadership position to take a moral stance,” wrote Rachel Strick MBA ’08 M.A. ’09. She does not want the University to violate free speech or change their policies on discourse, but to make it clear they will protect their students.  

Joel Weinberg ’77 decided to sign the open letter after having conversations with friends from Princeton and Columbia about the lack of moral clarity from University administration. He said that the statement seemed “wishy-washy.”

“There are times when things are so consistently wrong that the University has to speak with a clear voice,” Weinberg said. 

Sophia Shramko MBA ’19 said she signed the letter because she felt that Stanford needed to lead by example by taking care of its students and condemning the attack that happened on Oct. 7. 

Shramko called on the University to condemn antisemitism on campus. Shramko said her experiences growing up as a Muslim Arab in Israel showed her “what fundamentalist Islam looks like and what terror looks like and how terrorists are being made.”

Shramko lived in Israel during the Second Intifada, a five year uprising started in 2000 by Palestinian groups. The uprising was a bloody period marked by suicide bombings and military response.

Shramko described her eighth grade teacher glorifying daily violence in Israel, including an instance when Shramko’s brother almost died. The day after her teacher celebrated the attacks, Shramko’s best friend expressed her “wish [to] one day become a suicide bomber.”

Hamas’ October attack and the rhetoric has since raised worries for Shramko about what she saw as parallels to the indoctrination she witnessed as a child: “Terrorists are not being made in some dungeon in Afghanistan in Osama Bin Laden’s house. This is how terrorists are being made. A lot of the people on campus do really walk in a reality where they teach you from a very young age to hate the Jews. They teach you that in schools…This is something that people are brainwashed to hate the Jews blindly.”

Shramko said she was scared rhetoric would escalate to violence against students. She referenced posts shared on Cornell’s Greekrank that threatened Jewish students, including a threat of a shooting at a Cornell Center for Jewish living. 

“I’m really scared for the life of the Jewish and Israeli students on campus,” Shramko said.

Gavrieli echoed Shramko’s fears and Weinberg’s criticism of the statement, writing that University leadership’s first statement felt “perfunctory” and “tone-deaf,” failing to meet the moment and project moral clarity that was needed as a “message of support.”

Gavrieli wrote that he thought the first statement reflected the “deeply rooted and structural bias Stanford carries against the Jewish and Israeli community,” which was also referenced in the letter. According to him, Stanford must “project morality, righteousness and the truth.”

Omer Rabin MBA ’13 wrote that many alumni were planning to reconsider their donations and feel that “an institution that allows the glorification of terror and anti-semitism on its grounds, masked as “‘freedom of speech,’ is not worthy of support.” He also expressed concern over the University’s failure to address misinformation, hate speech and antisemitism. 

Rabin wrote that certain chants on campus, like “Israel has to go” and “From the River to the Sea,” should be condemned by the University because they reject Israel’s existence as a state. 

“[A] school like Stanford simply can’t allow the glorifying of terror acts and is required to take action here,” Rabin wrote. “Condemning terror strongly shouldn’t be hard. It’s a very low bar to clear.”

Shramko visited campus in the aftermath of the attack and was frustrated by what she felt was a lack of understanding about the situation. 

“They don’t differentiate between Hamas and the Palestinian people,” Shramko said. ”As an Arab, I really care about the Palestinian people.” 

Not everyone on campus behaves in good faith, Shramko said. “It’s painful for me to see those people who are just like led by their blind hatred for Israel and not really caring about the Palestinian people. If you care about the Palestinian people, you would first and foremost condemn Hamas.”

Originally posted 2023-10-31 10:45:24.