The decision by Brandeis University’s student government senate to reject a resolution condemning Hamas is drawing significant dissent from within the university’s community.
Two statements published Wednesday aim to demonstrate that the vote Sunday night does not represent the majority view at the university, which was founded in 1948 by leaders of the U.S. Jewish community. One of the statements suggests that the vote did not even represent the majority view of the student government.
The first statement to appear was written and circulated by Eitan Marks, a senior and the president of Brandeis Hillel. Structured as an open letter, it had garnered more than 1,000 signatures by Thursday morning from current students and their families, university faculty and staff and alumni dating back to 1960. Brandeis Hillel has also signed it.
“We, the undersigned, strongly condemn the atrocious and barbaric Hamas terror attacks against the people of Israel this month, including many connected to the Brandeis community,” the letter begins. It adds, “Failure to denounce these atrocities without reservation is a moral stain.”
The letter goes on to commend Brandeis president Ron Liebowitz for his support for Israel, and calls on more campus leaders to speak out as well. Liebowitz put out statements on Oct. 7, the day of Hamas’ attack on Israel, and again this week, emphasizing that Brandeis supports Israel’s right to defend itself.
“I’m really proud of our students for mobilizing so quickly,” Rabbi Seth Winberg, the executive director of Brandeis Hillel, said. Winberg also signed the letter.
The second statement, from by the Brandeis Undergraduate Student Union, similarly condemns Hamas. It was emailed to all undergraduate students Wednesday afternoon and posted on social media.
Brandeis’ government, called the Student Union, consists of five branches, including a senate that passes legislation and an executive board that oversees the entire government. The senate — which voted down the resolution condemning Hamas 6-10, with five abstentions — typically sets policy positions for the entire Student Union.
The Student Union letter suggests that the Marks’ letter was a better barometer of sentiment than the senate vote.
“We agree wholeheartedly with this statement and the need to support our community during this time,” reads the Student Union’s letter, referring to the letter written by Marks.
“We want to send a message to all of our students, including our Jewish, Israeli, Muslim, Arab, and Palestinian students, we are here to support you,” it continues. “We are here for you as your student government.”
Marks said that he viewed the Student Union’s letter as an important corrective at a challenging time.
“It is clear that on this issue, the vote of a few students on the student government does not actually represent the Brandeis community,” Marks said via email, referring to the senate vote. “I am glad they corrected their mistake and unequivocally condemned Hamas terrorism. Brandeis is, and will always be the best university for Jewish students in the United States.”
But Stephan Gaughan, a Jewish sophomore who resigned from Brandeis’ student government over the senate’s decision, said that the overwhelming response he has heard from students on campus is that the Student Union’s letter is “too little too late.”
Gaughan signed the student-led letter but said he finds it troubling that the student government letter is not signed by any individuals by name. (He did note that Student Union President Noah Risley shared the letter on Instagram.)
“I’m glad to see a statement, but I think what we need right now is transparency,” Gaughan said. “Specifically as to whom in the union this represents.”
The Brandeis Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel student group, released a statement on Wednesday rejecting the senate’s decision. “BIPAC is disappointed and frightened by the decision of our Student Union against adopting the proposed resolution to condemn ‘all acts of terrorism, violence and hatred,’” the statement reads. The group called on Brandeis students to “be loud about your commitment to human rights.”
Many campuses have been roiled since Oct. 7 over their leaders’ handling of Hamas’ attack on Israel and Israel’s ensuing war against the terror group in Gaza. Some have seen donors cut off funding to protest responses that they perceived as insufficiently supportive of Israel or Jewish students.
Aside from the senate vote, Gaughan said the campus response to Hamas’ attack has been largely in support of Israel and Brandeis’ Jewish community, which includes about a third of undergraduates. He said there have been isolated incidents of anti-Israel graffiti on campus.
A university spokesperson said there have been no demonstrations on campus in support of Hamas and noted that in the aftermath of the Oct. 7 attacks, multiple vigils have been organized by Jewish and Israeli students.
The campus chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, which drew national attention when it held a rally on campus in February, has not advertised on-campus activity on its Instagram page. It participated in a Boston-wide pro-Palestinian rally on Sunday and on Wednesday initiated an open letter of its own.
The letter, whose signatories have not been made public, denounces the “the Israeli genocide” and says Brandeis’ founding “by the American Jewish community that has experienced anti-semitism and genocide for decades by white supremacists” requires the university to stand with Palestinians now.
“Realistically, we realize that the school cannot and will not show any support for Palestine,” the SJP letter says. “However, the least we can expect as advocates for Palestinian students on campus is acknowledgment of the suffering that they and their families have been going through for the past 75 years.” The letter also asks for special resources for Palestinian and Muslim students, including an Arab social worker at the university counseling center.