Conflicting messages from different corners of Notre Dame

In response to the outbreak of violence in the Holy Land, Notre Dame President Fr. John Jenkins, C.S.C. released a statement on October 10: “Saddened by the outbreak of war in the Holy Land, I join with many in abhorring the killing of non-combatants and I echo the Holy Father’s call to pray for all victims of the current conflict, for an end to the cycle of violence, and for a lasting peace with justice.” 

The statement also announced that the university has relocated all students studying abroad in Israel, temporarily suspending the program at the Tantur Ecumenical Institute. The institute’s latest news release was in late September. It is not clear how many students have been affected.

Fr. Jenkins also joined Universities United Against Terrorism (UUAT), a coalition of over 100 university presidents and chancellors founded in response to the recent events. The coalition, created by Dr. Ari Bergman of Yeshiva University, put out a joint statement that says, “Hamas is a terrorist organization and the Palestinian people are not represented by Hamas.” It continued, “Murdering innocent civilians including babies and children, raping women, and taking the elderly as hostages are not the actions of political disagreement but the actions of hate and terrorism.” UUAT stands “with Israel, with the Palestinians who suffer under Hamas’ cruel rule in Gaza, and with all people of moral conscience.”

Notre Dame junior Christopher de la Viesca, who is partly Palestinian, had mixed thoughts about Fr. Jenkins’ statement: “I believe he was prudent in taking a relatively neutral stance, but such a stance is nonetheless misleading because one side has [suffered] about five times the number of civilian deaths and a century-long history of oppression by the other side.” 

De la Viesca was critical of the president’s involvement with UUAT: “The accusations the article listed against Hamas that count as ‘the actions of hate and terrorism’ can all be applied to Israel’s army and defense force both recently and historically, so [the coalition] should not ‘stand with Israel’ but rather with all civilians and against senseless war.” 

Senior Abraham Figueroa, a political science major, disagreed: “I was glad to see Notre Dame sign on to the statement by Universities United Against Terrorism. Our support for Israel against the evil perpetuated by Hamas is clear, as it should be. It’s reassuring to see the university not waver when faced with such dire moral questions.”

In addition to the Office of the President, other groups at Notre Dame have also responded to the war. On October 24, Campus Ministry announced in its weekly email that they would hold a Holy Hour for Peace, stating, “Pope Francis has declared Friday, October 27, as a day of prayer and fasting for peace in our world, inviting people throughout the world to join him in praying for peace.” The Holy Hour for Peace followed the 11:30 a.m. Mass at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on that day.

The Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies hosted a panel on October 12 titled “The Israel/Palestine Escalation: The Current Chapter of a Long History.” The panel was moderated by Ebrahim Moosa, the Mirza Family Professor of Islamic Thought and Muslim Societies. It featured Daniel Bannoura, a theology PhD candidate and a Palestinian; Mary O’Connell, the Short Professor of Law and concurrent professor of peace studies; and Atalia Omer, a Kroc Institute professor of Religion, Conflict, and Peace Studies and an Israeli. 

According to a Keough School for Global Affairs summary of the event, “[Bannoura] noted that so many are in attendance at the panel today, rather than at past panels, because we don’t think Palestinians are fully human. The difference this time is the number of Israelis who have died.” The summary continued, “He argued that it was necessary to condemn Hamas, but that it was also necessary to condemn the Israeli government’s actions, the latter of which US citizens are also complicit in because their tax dollars go to support Israel.”

Prof. O’Connell discussed the conflict through the lens of international law, emphasizing the fact that Hamas had engaged in terrorism and that it was unclear to what extent Israel can legally retaliate against Gaza for the actions of a terrorist group within its borders.

Erin B. Corcoran, executive director of the Kroc Institute, praised the panel: “The event was intellectual, educational, emotional, and raw for all involved. It was a teachable moment, and we used it wisely as our panel fielded questions from the audience.” 

This is not the first time that The Kroc Institute has covered the conflict in Israel. Their October 17, 2021 release argued, “This new crisis did not appear in a vacuum, but arises in the context of ongoing Israeli occupation and dispossession of Palestinians in East Jerusalem and elsewhere. The Israeli government’s response to the challenge posed by Hamas rockets is directly tied to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political survival in light of corruption charges and his inability to form a new government.”

Two members of the sociology department, Professor Abigail Ocobock and Taylor Hartson, a PhD candidate, joined Sociologists in Solidarity with Gaza and the Palestinian People, a letter declaring opposition to the Israeli war effort. The letter has been signed by over 1,900 professors and PhD students from universities around the world. 

“We are witnessing internationally supported genocide,” the letter says. “This latest siege comes as a continuation and escalation of the daily violence Palestinians faced for decades from Israeli colonization; an apartheid regime whose occupation is in clear violation of international law, but persists with the support of powerful governments globally. … We cannot sit back and witness the continuation of this genocidal war. We demand that our governments push for an immediate ceasefire.” 

Neither Ocobock nor Hartson responded to the Rover’s request for comment.

As the length of the current outbreak of fighting in the longstanding conflict approaches one month, it is clear that the university, her students, and her faculty will continue to make their voices heard as the situation progresses. 

Will Grannis is a junior from Washington, D.C. studying Honors Mathematics and theology. He can be reached at

Photo Credit: Dome of the Rock and Temple Mount, Wikimedia Commons

Subscribe to the Irish Rover here.

Donate to the Irish Rover here.