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Pfizer CEO Condemns University Presidents’ Silence on Antisemitic Rhetoric

In a bold move, Albert Bourla, Chairman and CEO of Pfizer, has criticized the presidents of three prestigious U.S. universities for their failure to denounce the surge in antisemitic rhetoric following Hamas’ October 7 terror attack on Israel and the subsequent conflict in Gaza. Taking to X (formerly Twitter), Bourla expressed his shame after the testimony of Harvard University President Claudine Gay, MIT President Sally Kornbluth, and UPenn President Liz Magill before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

Bourla condemned the university presidents, calling it “one of the most despicable moments in the history of U.S. academia.” He expressed disappointment that the leaders had multiple opportunities to condemn racist and antisemitic hate rhetoric but instead chose to hide behind calls for ‘context.’

The Pfizer CEO, whose family suffered losses in Auschwitz, questioned whether the deaths of his relatives in the concentration camp would have provided enough ‘context’ for the presidents to condemn the Nazis’ antisemitic propaganda. Bourla shared a poignant image of his sister Graciela Bourla, who perished at the age of 17, emphasizing the human cost of such hatred.

The three university presidents faced scrutiny from Rep. Elise Stefanik during the House panel, questioning whether calls for a “global intifada” constituted a call for violent armed resistance against Israel and the genocide of Jews. Each president maintained that such rhetoric would only violate campus rules if it translated into conduct, emphasizing a ‘context-dependent’ approach.

As the controversy unfolded, President Claudine Gay attempted to clarify her comments on X, asserting Harvard’s stance against violence or genocide. She emphasized that calls for violence or genocide against any religious or ethnic group had no place at Harvard and those threatening Jewish students would be held accountable.

The condemnation by Pfizer’s CEO adds weight to the ongoing debate over the responsibility of university leaders in addressing and condemning hate speech on their campuses, particularly when it takes the form of antisemitic rhetoric. The incident serves as a reminder of the broader societal challenge in balancing free expression with the responsibility to prevent the spread of harmful ideologies.

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