Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Cambridge police get between dueling protests Monday at City Hall in a screen capture from a CBS News Boston report.

Dueling protests at City Hall this week marked Cambridge’s reaction to the Hamas attack on Israel on Saturday, but it’s a statement in support of Hamas signed by 36 student groups at Harvard that has had more impact.

As of Thursday, a truck with a digital display was driving around the Harvard campus area showing the identities of students believed to have signed, alumni were discussing getting a list of signers to not hire and The Harvard Crimson student newspaper reported that several of the groups had withdrawn their support.

The surprise attacks by Hamas, a militant group focused on securing a Palestinian homeland, killed at least 1,200 Israelis in several locations, including children and infants, and continues with some 150 people held hostage, according to media reports. Governments and diplomats around the world condemned the attacks as terrorism. “Nothing can justify these acts of terror,” the U.N. secretary general said.

The statement by student groups grouped as Harvard Palestine Solidarity, however, said they “hold the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence [and its] apartheid regime is the only one to blame.”

Reaction was swift to the document, which lacked even a rote expression of regret for people caught up in the bloodshed.

“The sentiments it expresses are egregious,” said Jason Furman, an economics professor at Harvard, via social media. “Blaming the victims for the slaughter of hundreds of civilians. Absolving the perpetrators of any agency. This is morally ignorant and painful for other members of the community.” A letter signed by more than 350 faculty members expressed sorrow for all deaths resulting from the attack but warned against false equivalencies and said: “Hamas planned and executed the murder and kidnapping of civilians, particularly women, children and the elderly, with no military or other specific objective. This meets the definition of a war crime.”

Bill Ackman, the founder and chief executive of the hedge fund Pershing Square Capital Management, drew attention when he said he and other business leaders were asking Harvard which students were in the signing groups – so they could blacklist them from jobs after graduation.

Several students noted publicly that they hadn’t signed onto the letter even as the truck seen Thursday and various websites named members of the Harvard community believed to be antisemitic supporters of Hamas. Harvard Hillel, a Jewish group, released statements saying the Harvard Palestine Solidarity Groups “falsely blames Israel for Hamas’ vicious and cruel attacks on Israeli civilians” – but then had to clarify on Thursday that it also didn’t support the release of personal information known as doxxing.

“Harvard Hillel strongly condemns any attempts to threaten and intimidate co-signatories of the Palestine Solidarity Committee’s statement, including the bus on campus displaying the names and faces of students affiliated with the groups who have signed it,” the statement said. “We will continue to reject the PSC’s statement in the strongest terms – and demand accountability for those who signed it. But under no circumstances should that accountability extend to public intimidation of individuals. Such intimidation is counterproductive to the education that needs to take place on our campus at this difficult time.”

Virtually forgotten by midweek were public protests Monday afternoon at City Hall, when two groups of hundreds of people – supporters of the Palestinian cause and those angry over the attack by Hamas – lined Massachusetts Avenue, before at least one group marched to Kendall Square, police spokesperson Robert Goulston said.

The clash of views was tense, with supporters of each side coming face to face for yelling matches before being largely separated by police and singing, chanting and waving signs and flags from opposite sidewalks. Video from the protests on Indigenous Peoples Day showed the pro-Palestinian group outnumbering those sporting the blue and white of the Israeli flag. A larger gathering took place on Boston Common.

There were no arrests in Cambridge. “There was a lot of shouting between the sides, two groups trying to communicate to each other,” Goulston said Wednesday. “It was a big event that turned into something very orderly.”

The day revived protests in Central Square against Elbit Systems, an Israeli company that makes weapons. The Cambridge branch is separate and focused on medicine, city councillors said in August.