Feting Fetterman

Fetterman renounces Harvard in Yeshiva University commencement address

‘I’m just a senator with a big mouth that happens to be committed to standing with Israel,’ Fetterman said

Anthony Behar/Sipa USA via AP Images

Senator John Fetterman (D-PA) seen removing his colored hood from Harvard University as a sign of protest against their policies concerning the ongoing Israel-Palestinian war during the commencement ceremony for 2024 Yeshiva University graduating class, at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center's Louse Armstrong Stadium, Flushing Meadow-Corona Park, Queens, NY, May 29, 2024.

Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) renounced his association with Harvard University over its “inability to stand up for the Jewish community” during his Yeshiva University commencement address on Wednesday, removing the crimson hood representing his alma mater while on stage.

Fetterman made the gesture early in his address, which culminated in him receiving the Presidential Medallion, the private Orthodox university’s highest honor, for his advocacy on behalf of Israel and the Jewish people. He joked that he didn’t deserve to be in the same company as previous recipients of the award, describing himself as “just a senator with a big mouth that happens to be committed to standing with Israel.”

The Pennsylvania senator, who has emerged since Oct. 7 as one of Israel’s strongest allies in his party, said he had been “reflecting” on his “last graduation, and that was literally a quarter century ago. I was graduating from Harvard University.”

“Today, I have been profoundly disappointed with Harvard’s inability to stand up for the Jewish community after Oct. 7. Personally, I do not fundamentally believe that it is right for me to wear this today,” Fetterman said while pointing to his hood, which he then removed from around his neck. 

The move sparked audible gasps and subsequent cheers from the crowd. 

Fetterman, who graduated from the Harvard Kennedy School in 1999 with a master’s in public policy, vowed to remain a staunch supporter of Israel and fight for the release of the hostages, pointing to a memento given to him by a family member. 

“Of course, we cannot ignore the somber context of today. In fact, on my wrist I’m wearing the wristband from the Nova music festival. It was given to me by a family member of someone that was taken hostage. If you look at it, it reads Oct. 7, 2023. It’s a constant reminder of the horrors of that day,” Fetterman said. “The Jewish community everywhere deserves our support and I promise you will always have mine. And I will not stop speaking out until every last hostage is brought back home.”

The Democratic senator has bucked his party’s shift away from Israel in recent months, refusing to waver in his support for continued offensive military aid despite the objections of some far left colleagues. He has also led on legislation combating antisemitism on college campuses alongside Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA). 

He told the graduating class that one of his “most proud moments as a United States senator was voting for billions in aid for Israel with no conditions to allow Israel to push back at that singular evil force.” 

Fetterman also urged students to take some time to celebrate their accomplishments and embrace the joy they felt on this day despite the tragedy that has unfolded in Israel and Gaza on and since Oct. 7. 

“Joy can coexist with tragedy,” Fetterman said. “And today, never forget that today is a day of celebration for all of you and all of these families here.”

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