Columbia Law Dean Does Damage Control After Mealy-Mouthed Israel Statement

Backpedaling comes as student groups around the country declare support for Hamas

(Reuters/Amir Cohen and
October 10, 2023

The dean of Columbia Law School, Gillian Lester, is doing damage control in the wake of a muted statement about the "violence that erupted in Israel" over the weekend, issuing a new statement on Tuesday that blamed Hamas for the attacks and described them as an act of terrorism.

"I want to acknowledge the trauma, fear, and despair that you are feeling in the aftermath of the atrocious terrorist attacks on Israel and innocent civilians by Hamas, and Israel’s subsequent declaration of war," Lester emailed the school. Her initial statement, released on Monday, did not acknowledge Hamas’s role in a massacre that killed over 900 Israelis, most of them civilians.

The Tuesday message also called on students to "treat each other with respect, civility, and generosity, even when we disagree." That plea came after 15 student groups, led by Columbia’s chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, issued a statement blaming Israel for the weekend’s atrocities and asserting that the Jewish state had no right to defend itself.

Lester did not respond to a request for comment.

Other universities are facing backlash over their milquetoast responses to the violence, which is being described as the single deadliest attack on Jews since the Holocaust. After 34 Harvard student groups blamed Israel for the massacre, former Harvard president Larry Summers on Monday blasted the university for its "neutral" stance, saying he had "never been as disillusioned and alienated as I am today."

The school released a mealy-mouthed statement that night lamenting the violence. On Tuesday the president of the university, Claudine Gay, released a stronger statement, condemning Hamas’s "terrorist atrocities" and making it clear that the 34 student groups did not speak for Harvard.

Numerous student organizations across the country have sided with Hamas. Swarthmore’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine praised the "martyrs" resisting the "Zionist regime by any means necessary." George Washington University’s chapter declared its "full support" for the attacks, adding that "we reject the distinction between ‘civilian’ and ‘militant.’"

At New York University Law School, the president of the student bar association, Ryna Workman, released a statement on Monday affirming her solidarity with Hamas.

"I will not condemn Palestinian resistance," she said, adding that the terrorist attacks were "necessary." Instead, "I condemn the violence of obfuscating genocide as a ‘complex issue.’"

Workman was a summer associate at Winston & Strawn this year, meaning she will likely be invited back to the white-shoe firm after graduation. Workman and Winston Strawn did not respond to requests for comment.