Israeli billionaire Idan Ofer quits Harvard’s board, blasting the school leadership’s response to students’ anti-Israel letter

An Israeli billionaire who is the 80th richest man in the world has quit Harvard’s executive board in protest of the school’s leaders’ response to the attacks by Hamas on Israel—the latest development in a fierce debate over the unfolding war that has roiled the university. 

Israeli billionaire Idan Ofer and his wife Batia told CNN on Friday that their “faith in the University’s leadership has been broken” and that they “cannot in good faith continue to support Harvard and its committees.” The couple had sat on the executive board of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. 

It’s the latest development at the Ivy League university, where many have criticized its response to a student statement from a pro-Palestine group that held Israel “entirely responsible for all unfolding violence.”

The letter, published by a number of pro-Palestine student groups called the Palestine Solidarity Committee, read: “Today, the Palestinian ordeal enters into uncharted territory. The coming days will require a firm stand against colonial retaliation. We call on the Harvard community to take action and to stop the ongoing annihilation of Palestinians.”

The statement initially included the names of approximately 30 student organizations, which were later removed to protect the safety of the students involved, the group said. 

Harvard University president Claudine Gay distanced the school from the student statement on Tuesday, saying, “I condemn the terrorist atrocities perpetrated by Hamas. Such inhumanity is abhorrent, whatever one’s individual views of the origins of longstanding conflicts in the region.” She added, “While our students have the right to speak for themselves, no student group — not even 30 student groups — speaks for Harvard University or its leadership.”

But that wasn’t enough for the Ofers, who said their decision to resign from the board “has been precipitated by the lack of clear evidence of support from the University’s leadership for the people of Israel following the tragic events of the past week, coupled with their apparent unwillingness to recognize Hamas for what it is, a terrorist organization.”

“We denounce those who seek to place blame on the people of Israel for the atrocities committed by the terrorist organisation, Hamas,” they said. 

Idan Ofer, who has a net worth of nearly $20 billion, made his fortune through his majority stake in Israel Corp., a chemicals, energy, and shipping conglomerate. His father, Sammy Ofer, was once Israel’s richest man, according to Forbes

“With so much disinformation being spread by social media it is essential that the world’s great institutions speak with a clear and unequivocal voice at this critical time,” the Ofers said.

Turmoil at Harvard

The Ofers’ response is the latest in a string of controversies that has roiled the Ivy League school since the Saturday attack on Israel by the Palestinian militant group Hamas. The attack and Israel’s fierce retaliation has led to heavy fighting that has killed more than 2,000 people on both sides. 

Some human rights groups and pro-Palestine groups have expressed support for the Palestinian people, drawing a distinction between the 2 million civilians living in Gaza, who have been under an Israeli blockade for 16 years, and the militant Hamas group, which controls the area and which the U.S. considers a terrorist organization. To this, Israel hawks have responded with outrage, with some equating support for Palestinians with support for terrorists.

Bill Ackman, the billionaire founder of Pershing Square Capital Management, on Wednesday demanded that Harvard reveal the names of the students who signed the pro-Palestine letter, saying he—and other high-profile CEOs—wanted to see the names so that “none of us inadvertently hire any of their members.”

The following day, The Harvard Crimson reported that a so-called “doxxing” truck drove through campus with a digital billboard titled “Harvard’s leading antisemites” that showed names and faces of the students supposedly associated with the letter. Some students have said they were mistakenly named and their organizations signed the letter without their knowledge. 

The stunt itself has incited criticism for overreach. Harvard economics professor Jason Furman, who was previously an economic advisor to President Barack Obama, condemned the display, writing on X that “two wrongs do not make a right.” Harvard Hillel, the school’s Jewish student organization, also denounced the truck incident and “any attempts to threaten and intimidate” students involved with the statement.

“We will continue to reject the PSC’s statement in the strongest terms — and demand accountability for those who signed it,” Hillel wrote. “But under no circumstances should that accountability extend to public intimidation of individuals.”

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