The Daily Scoop: Harvard University president criticized for slow Israel-Hamas response  

Plus: Threads users want more from the app, Jack Daniel’s appeals to broader audience in brand update. 

Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA - December 11, 2021: The John Winthrop House and gate in Harvard Yard on a rainy day. Winthrop is one of twelve undergraduate residential Houses at Harvard University. It is home to approximately 400 upperclass undergraduates. Winthrop house consists of two buildings, Standish Hall and Gore Hall built in 1912. In 1931 they were joined as John Winthrop House. The House crest atop the gate shows a lion on a shield with chevrons in the background. Harvard president Claudine Gay was slow to respond to Israel Hamas war.

On Saturday, Hamas, ambushed Israel in a brutal surprise attack that targeted civilians.

Over the weekend, many universities and organizations expressed dismay and solidarity with the Israeli people. Harvard University did not.

On Monday, the student-led Harvard Palestine Solidarity Groups wrote an open letter that said, “the Israeli regime (is) entirely responsible for all unfolding violence,” the New York Times reported.  

Harvard University President Claudine Gay faced heavy criticism for waiting until Monday to give a statement on the attack — something critics said stood in stark contrast to the university’s almost immediate reaction to the murder of George Floyd and the Russia-Ukraine conflict, per the Times. 

Monday night, Gay issued a general statement that the violence “hits all too close to home” without acknowledging the student coalition’s controversial comments. 

On Tuesday, Gay finally did speak on the student group. 

“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,” she said. 

But the group spoke first — and to many, it did seem as if they spoke for the university as a whole.

Past Harvard president Lawrence H. Summers posted on X  that he was “disillusioned” and “alienated” because Harvard did not speak up at first. 

“When you fly the Ukrainian flag over Harvard yard, when you issue clear, vivid and strong statements in response to the George Floyd killing, you have decided not to pursue a policy of neutrality,” Summers said, per the Times. 


Why it matters 

Other universities like Brandeis University sent a statement on Saturday when the attacks against Israel began. 

Harvard’s failure to give a proactive statement went against past actions that the university took during other major tragedies, such as the Ukraine war and Floyd’s murder at the hands of police. 

Harvard’s initial silence on the attacks against Israel and the student coalition letter spoke volumes. Even after Gay gave a tepid first statement on the matter, people will still remember her decision to wait.  

“(This) has allowed Harvard to appear at best neutral towards acts of terror against the Jewish state of Israel,” Summers told the Times. 

Failing to speak out is “not the trend,” Tom Ginsburg, University of Chicago’s Forum for Free Inquiry and Expression faculty director, told the Times. 

When Gay did decide to first speak up after facing criticism for waiting, it appeared to do little to solve the problem because Gay’s initial statement failed to include a response amidst criticism of the student coalition statement.  

The lack of consistency in issuing a statement condemning the attack ultimately hurt Harvard.  

If a brand responds to one geopolitical matter, stakeholders will expect future statements when other international crises break out. When there’s no statement, people will wonder why. Don’t leave them to wonder. Also, don’t ignore controversial comments when they land at your doorstep. Address it head-on and don’t let others speak for you.  


Editor’s Top Picks: 

  • Threads is rebounding in popularity as users flock to the platform to learn about the Israel and Hamas war while X grows unreliable, The Verge reported. “Threads is just getting better every day with more people joining,” CNN reporter Andrew Kaczynski said. With this resurgence, Threads users continue to ask for hashtags, better search features and trending topics, which are on tap. “Over the weekend, it sure feels like a lot of people decided what Threads was for … The question now is whether Meta will listen to them,” per The Verge.  
  • Jack Daniel’s is updating its brand and turning it into a more exclusive whiskey, the New York Times reported. Jack Daniel’s was not taken seriously and dismissed as “best left for shots and cheap cocktails,” per the Times. But Jack Daniel’s debuted limited releases of its drinks and made its whiskey flavors more desirable to a larger audience, who began to respect the brand. These limited releases created a FOMO effect in a busy marketplace. Jack Daniel’s knows that brand loyalty is not what it used to be and the brand is catering to that with its products. When debuting a new product, create your own FOMO effect with limited releases to create a bigger buzz.   
  • Trick-or-tater? Potatoes USA hopes that more people will choose spuds this Halloween season, according to a Potatoes USA press release. In the past few years, families have opted to incorporate potatoes into their Halloween traditions, which Potatoes USA says includes games, activities and even a healthier candy replacement when children trick-or-treat. Carving with potatoes is also a thing. The Irish used to carve scary faces into their potatoes to ward off spirits and now a twist on that tradition is coming back. “Potatoes and Halloween go far back so it’s really cool to see them come back together,” Potatoes USA Marketing Director Marisa Stein said in the release. Look into new ways to bring old products, or messaging, to life again. 


Sherri Kolade is a writer at PR Daily. When she is not with her family, she enjoys watching old films, reading and building an authentically curated life. This includes, more than occasionally, finding something deliciously fried. Follow her on LinkedIn. Have a great PR story idea? Email her at


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