University President Gregory Fenves condemned last weekend’s Hamas terrorist attacks that left over 1,000 Israeli civilians dead in a University-wide email on Oct. 11. Fenves, who is Jewish, noted that many Emory community members are experiencing “tremendous” suffering as a result of the attacks, which are the latest in the decades-long conflict between Israel and Palestine.

“The reality of Jews being senselessly murdered and taken as hostages will not soon leave my mind, and must be condemned in the strongest possible terms,” Fenves wrote in the email. 

The Palestinian militant group Hamas released thousands of rockets and about 1,000 fighters into Israel on Saturday to start the 2023 Israel-Hamas war, during which thousands of people have died, including at least 22 U.S. citizens.

At least 100 Israeli people were taken hostage and at least 1,200 have died since Saturday. Israel’s retaliatory attacks resulted in the loss of at least 1,100 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. These attacks sparked a wave of demonstrations and vigils across the globe to honor the lives lost in Israel and Palestine, as well as debate about the conflict on U.S. college campuses.

The president’s statement comes only a day after Jewish students published an open letter addressed to Fenves, calling on University administration to “stand with Israel.” 

Eagles for Israel President Morgan Ames (24C), one of the letter’s co-authors, wrote in an email to the Wheel that witnessing the attacks and the resulting rise in antisemitism has been frightening.

Jewish students nationwide are terrified, as antisemitism transcends across the world and is reaching college students worldwide,” Ames wrote.

Emory Students for Justice in Palestine (ESJP), who requested to be anonymous out of fear of retaliation, wrote in an email to the Wheel that students supporting Palestine, especially Muslim and Middle Eastern students, have also experienced “both overt and covert forms of discrimination” in the wake of the Hamas attacks.

University President Gregory Fenves speaks during the 2023 Commencement ceremony. (Madi Olivier/Managing Editor)

Fenves visited Israel for the first time in 40 years in June. He traveled with University colleagues, and met with Emory students and alumni studying and working in Israel, as well as scholars at universities in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. 

“To see the nation where I walked peacefully a few months ago now under attack is hard to comprehend,” Fenves wrote. “Acknowledging that a war has begun and more lives, both Israeli and Palestinian, will be lost to this conflict fills me with grief.”

Hillel President Avery Adelman (24C) wrote in an email to the Wheel that Jews on and off campus are “mourning” their communities. Fenves wrote that he views Israel as a “homeland that is meaningful to [his] family across generations.”

“He recognized his own Jewish connection to the land of Israel and the heartbreak that Jews around the world are feeling for our family and friends in Israel,” Adelman wrote.

ESJP, however, wrote in an email to the Wheel that Fenves’ letter “disrespects and undermines the issue at hand” by failing to address the Palestinian lives lost in the war. 

“President Fenves repeatedly and exclusively mourns the tragedy of Jewish lives lost in the violence,” ESJP wrote. “By not acknowledging the Muslim and Christian lives lost in the Holy Land, our university administration has crudely implied that these lives are inherently inferior and less important. The refusal to sufficiently acknowledge the lost lives of Palestinians makes it evident that these voices are suffering from silencing and dehumanization.”

The group noted that over 400 Palestinian people were “victims of violence perpetrated by the occupation” when Fenves visited in June.

“To dismiss this reality as ‘peaceful’ is to dismiss the experiences of Palestinian students as we mourn this ongoing tragedy,” ESJP wrote.

Ames wrote that Jewish and pro-Israel students appreciate Fenves’ statement condemning the attacks in Israel, noting that he has an “univocal responsibility to speak up for students on campus.” 

Israel Public Affairs Committee Co-President Sophie Kalmin (26C) expressed a similar sentiment, applauding Fenves’ “strong language.”

“I personally feel more comfortable on campus knowing he recognizes the threat Hamas poses to my friends and family there right now,” Kalmin said. “I hope other university presidents follow his lead in standing in solidarity with his students in a time of profound need.”

However, Ames pointed out flaws in the timing of the University’s response to the attacks. Several university presidents across the United States condemned the violence in Israel before Fenves released his statement, such as Harvard University (Mass.) President Claudine Gay and New York University President Linda Mills.

Emory College of Arts and Sciences Dean Barbara Krauthamer, Goizueta Business School Dean Gareth James and the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion all released statements on the Israel-Palestine conflict on Oct. 10. Oxford College Dean Badia Ahad released a statement on Oct. 11, about three hours after Fenves.

“The Emory administration should have been more timely in their response and clear that they condemn horrific and barbaric violence,” Ames wrote.

Fenves called for Emory community members to continue to come together peacefully and show empathy for each other. A coalition of Jewish students is hosting a vigil at 5:30 p.m. in Asbury Circle later today.  

ESJP plans to hold their own vigil to honor the Palestinian lives lost in the conflict, but they did not have a set time and location by time of publication. 

We demand that the Emory administration acknowledge both sides in University statements,” ESJP wrote. “It is imperative to include the lives of the innocent Palestinians who have been killed this past weekend, this past year, and this past century.”

The University’s faculty experts on the Middle East, Israel and other relevant topics will be “invaluable” as the Emory community navigates difficult conversations about the Israel-Palestine conflict, Fenves added.

“Emory’s motto, the wise heart seeks knowledge, is based on an understanding that we treat each other with respect even, and especially, in moments of disagreement,” Fenves wrote. “That is my plea to you in the coming days—seek knowledge but do so in a way that acknowledges our shared humanity. That’s what unity looks like at Emory. Treat each other well and keep your minds and hearts open. Pray for peace.”

Correction (10/11/23 at 2:49 p.m.): A previous version of this article stated that the Emory Israel Public Affairs Committee is hosting a vigil on Oct. 11. In fact, a coalition of Jewish students is hosting the vigil. 

+ posts

Madi Olivier is from Highland Village, Texas, and is majoring in psychology and minoring in rhetoric, writing and information design. Outside of the Wheel, she is involved in psychology research and works for the Trevor Project. In her free time, you can find her trying not to fall while bouldering and watching Criminal Minds with her cat.