More than 1,500 alumni, faculty and parents associated with Yale University signed a letter to the president and provost of the Ivy League school in New Haven, Conn., expressing concern about “a climate of hostility to Jews and pro-Israel voices” at the university.
“We never imagined that we would feel compelled to write you such a letter, and we write with heavy hearts,” wrote the community members. The group of Jewish and non-Jewish Yalies includes former U.S. senator Joe Lieberman, former Israeli ambassador to the United States Michael Oren and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton. (Lieberman holds a law degree; Oren is a former faculty member; and Bolton holds bachelor’s and law degrees, and is the father of a 2008 graduate.)
The signatories “have been deeply saddened to watch the tidal wave of antisemitism sweeping across campuses all over the United States,” they wrote. “Our beloved alma mater, Yale University, has been no exception.”
Ben Gordon, the West Palm Beach, Fla.-based founder and managing partner of Cambridge Capital, is one of the letter’s authors. (He holds a bachelor’s degree from Yale.)
Amid a “surge” in antisemitism since Hamas’s Oct. 7 terror attacks, “Yale has done a far better job than its peers,” Gordon told JNS. After the group shared the letter, Peter Salovey, Yale’s president, issued a statement “Against hatred” on Dec. 7, in which he announced a “standing advisory committee on Jewish student life.”
“President Salovey has demonstrated leadership. He issued a clear statement of moral principles, as reflected in his Oct. 10 statement condemning the Hamas terror attack, and his Dec. 7 statement,” Gordon said. “His leadership has paid dividends, as thus far, we have not seen acts of violence against Jews at Yale.”
Unlike at Harvard University, Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania, Yale has not seen rallies on campus against Israel and Jews, according to Gordon. “That said, I believe we all recognize that there is much more to do,” he said.
Gordon, who also holds an MBA from Harvard Business School, told JNS that he fears Harvard “has lost its way.”
“One sign was on Oct. 7, when—on the same day as the Hamas massacre of over 1,200 Jews, Christians, Muslims and Buddhists—over 30 Harvard groups declared that Israel was ‘entirely responsible,'” he said. Another indication was Harvard president Claudine Gay’s decision in a Dec. 5 House committee hearing to say that it depends on context whether calling for genocide against Jews violates university policy.
“This moment is about moral clarity. If Harvard can’t keep its Jewish students safe and can’t articulate its values clearly, then what does America’s oldest university stand for?” Gordon said. “I sincerely hope that Harvard can and will do better.”
Gordon thinks “people vote with their feet and with their wallets.”
“They support organizations that share their values. If donors conclude that universities no longer share their values, then it’s logical that they will stop funding them,” he said. “If I were an alumnus of a school that failed to condemn antisemitism or protect its Jewish students, I would reconsider my support.”
During Chanukah, video footage circulated of an antisemitic protester climbing a large menorah near Yale’s campus and attaching a Palestinian flag to it.
Dr. Michal Goldberg, a pediatrician who holds bachelor’s and medical degrees from Yale and who was involved in composing the letter, told JNS that the identity of the vandal isn’t known and that the university issued a “prompt” condemnation of the act on Dec. 10.
“Yale condemns in the strongest possible terms the desecration of a menorah on the New Haven Green during the religious holiday of Chanukah,” the university stated. “The placement of a Palestinian flag on the menorah conveys a deeply antisemitic message to Jewish residents of New Haven, including members of the Yale community.”
“That statement displayed moral clarity, which was glaringly absent on Capitol Hill on Dec. 5,” Goldberg told JNS.
She noted that Yale’s president “broke” with the Harvard, Penn and MIT presidents. “While it is surprising that calls for genocide are not seen by some as harassment, we are glad that is not the case at Yale,” Goldberg said.
Dated Nov. 20, the initial letter from the Yale students, faculty and parents noted three examples of antisemitism on campus. Zareena Grewal, an associate professor of American studies, ethnicity, race and migration, wrote of Oct. 7: “It’s been such an extraordinary day.”
She added that “Israel is a murderous, genocidal settler state and Palestinians have every right to resist through armed struggle, solidarity.”
A Yale spokeswoman defended Grewal’s right to free speech.
“A professor of American studies should know the difference between resistance and war crimes,” the 1,544 signatories wrote. “Yale’s Jewish students cannot feel safe in her classroom while she celebrates the slaughter of their friends and family.”
The letter also noted that the student group Yalies4Palestine chanted at an Oct. 25 rally that “When people are occupied, resistance is justified.” (Israel pulled out of Gaza in the summer of 2005, nearly 20 years ago.) The group has also posted “From the river to the sea,” which calls for genocide against Jews, on social media.
And, the signatories wrote, Yale hosted an antisemitic French scholar earlier in the year. Houria Bouteldja “has been accused of being a serial antisemite and homophobe, after posing with a sign demanding Zionists are sent to gulags, saying she identified with a terrorist who carried out a mass shooting at a Jewish school and calling same-sex marriage ‘part of homonationalism,’” the New York Post reported in April.
“Not only was she hosted by the university, but the event occurred on the second night of Passover, when Jewish students celebrated their holiday and were thus unable to attend and provide an alternate viewpoint,” per the letter to Yale leaders.
“The Yale administration would be unlikely to turn a blind eye to a visiting academic who called for other minorities to be sent to labor camps,” they added. “There should not be a double standard for Jewish students.”
The signatories asked Yale to do three things: to reject antisemitism and adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working antisemitism definition; protect Jewish students, including by banning groups that call for violence against Jews or Israel and including antisemitism in the school’s diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging training; and include Jewish and pro-Israel faculty in departments “where they are currently underrepresented.”
Yale also should “commit to gathering Yale experts from multiple disciplines and perspectives to teach the history and geopolitics that have led to current events,” the signatories wrote.
After the letter came out, Yale dining drew attention for removing and then reinstating “Israeli” couscous from its menu.
“Authenticity of the food and naming of the recipes have been a concern brought to us by students in the past,” a Yale spokesperson said earlier in December. “There were times they felt our food did not ‘authentically’ represent the country or ethnicity referenced in the name.”
“Couscous is steamed granules of rolled semolina,” Israel Nitzan, the former acting Israeli consul general in New York, said. “Israeli Couscous is toasted pasta. Decolonize ignorance!”
Sacha Litman, a partner and associate director at Boston Consulting Group, holds a bachelor’s of science from Yale and also signed the letter. He told JNS that Yalies have the sense that things are worse on other campuses and appreciate Salovey’s “stance on hatred and dialogue,” which “has been much more unequivocal than others.”
“Yet we believe Yale can and hopefully will do more to improve the climate to protect Jews and all groups from hatred and intimidation,” Litman said. “Yale has always—since I was an undergrad—been known as being the Ivy most focused on the undergraduate student quality of life.”
“I hope that mission will translate here too to ensure the climate for undergraduates protects from all hatred and intimidation, and truly educates them from all perspectives on the history and geography of the region and the issues, so those students can debate and discuss from a perspective of knowledge,” he said.
“Some things have been resolved,” he added. “Other new ones pop up.”