Notre Dame president releases statement calling for peace

Notre Dame president Father John Jenkins, C.S.C. published a “Statement on Israel-Hamas conflict” on February 9, calling for “an immediate, permanent ceasefire combined with the release of hostages on both sides.” He released the statement eight days after a February 1 meeting between Notre Dame leadership and Pope Francis, citing the Pope’s call for peace. 

This statement is the first public declaration by Fr. Jenkins on the conflict in Israel since October 10 when he “echo[ed] 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.” Fr. Jenkins later joined the coalition from “Universities United Against Terrorism,” which decries the violence of the October 7 attack and is titled, “We Stand Together With Israel Against Hamas.” 

Unlike previous actions, the most recent statement calls for a specific political goal. Fr. Jenkins advocates for a compromise between Israel and Palestine. “I believe that any lasting resolution must involve a two-state solution,” he affirmed. 

The statement also calls for the “end to the violence and death in Gaza, particularly children and innocent civilians.” 

Reactions to the university’s announcement varied.

Occupation Free ND, a collective of Notre Dame alumni, students, faculty, and staff, responded positively to Fr. Jenkins’ most recent statement. The group posted on Instagram, “While we recognize Fr. Jenkins’ statement as an important first step, Occupation Free ND calls on the University of Notre Dame to divest from complicit companies and continue to use its institutional ties to urge an end to Israeli occupation and unconditional US military aid to Israel.”

Sophomore Shri Thakur also viewed the statement in a positive light: “I think the Israel-Palestine conflict is a deeply nuanced geopolitical issue that the university should refrain from making overgeneralizing statements on. I appreciate that they have generally held to this so far.”

Meanwhile, Hadar Hazony, a doctoral student in political theory and constitutional studies at Notre Dame, tweeted in response to the university announcement: “Jenkins continues to display his vulgar moral bankruptcy, humiliating himself and our university. A mockery of the Catholic faith, a mockery of the search for truth and justice, a mockery of Notre Dame.” 

Fr. Jenkins’ most recent statement comes in the midst of outcry and controversy surrounding antisemitism at other prestigious institutions around the nation.

Unlike at many major universities, protests about conflict have not been particularly notable nor garnered much media attention at Notre Dame. But several small-scale protests have arisen, largely advocating for increased awareness of Palestinian casualties.

Students protested a January 23, 2024 law school talk between Alex Stein from the Supreme Court of Israel and Justice Amy Coney Barrett of the U.S. Supreme Court. Protesters displayed signs reading “Free Gaza,” “No Justice No Peace,” and “Let Gaza Live.” According to an Instagram post by Occupation Free ND, the protest involved students from their own group, Black Lives Matter South Bend, Michiana Jews Against Colonialism, Free Road Socialist Organization Michigan, and Northern Indiana Democratic Socialists of America. 

Other student groups penned an open letter condemning the university’s invitation of the Israeli Justice. The statement, published by the Irish Radical, declared, “Alex Stein’s presence on campus in light of the ongoing genocide and violence in Palestine being enacted by the Israeli government for whom he serves is extremely inappropriate.” 

The letter continued, “Alex Stein’s direct role in enabling the occupation erases any good-faith arguments for his objectivity or neutrality. The university’s invitation signals support for the Israeli government’s actions.”

In November 2023, Notre Dame students—members of the groups Student Voices for Palestine, Student Coalition for Immigration Advocacy, and SolidarityND—chalked 11,000 keys on the sidewalk outside South Dining Hall. The keys were intended to indicate each Palestinian killed in Gaza since October 7. 

Around the country, many student protests have strongly opposed Israel’s military actions. These uprisings have prompted public controversy surrounding antisemitism at several universities. 

On December 9, 2023, University of Pennsylvania president M. Elizabeth Magill resigned after public outcry over her comments before Congress regarding such student protests. According to a New York Times article, when asked by a congresswoman whether calls for the “genocide of Jews” constitutes “bullying or harassment,” Magill responded, “It is a context-dependent decision.” 

Other university presidents have also drawn criticism from their stance on the conflict. Claudine Gay, then-president of Harvard, responded in a similar fashion to Magill. In a congressional hearing, Gay was asked by Representative Elise Stefanikin, “Does calling for the genocide of Jews violate Harvard’s rules of bullying and harassment? Yes or no?” to which she responded, “It can be, depending on the context.” 

Although Gay later resigned because of accusations of plagiarism, her comments relating to antisemitism initiated the investigations into her academic credentials. Throughout the process, tension only rose at Harvard as student groups grew increasingly agitated.

Columbia University has also experienced tension on their campus over the conflict in Gaza. According to an article from ABC News, one Israeli student was “assaulted with a stick while putting up a poster of an Israeli hostage held by Hamas.” Later, a Columbia University administrator said that he wanted “every one of these people to die,” referring to pro-Palestinian protesters. 

Soon after the start of the conflict, Georgetown released a statement on October 20, 2023 describing Israel’s “indiscriminate use of violence” as a “genocidal campaign against Palestinians.” Contention on the Georgetown campus increased in the following months. 

In contrast to these institutions, Notre Dame has remained relatively free of tension despite differing views. Thakur reflected on this lack of conflict on campus: “I think the campus discourse on this issue has been less polarized than at other major universities because of Notre Dame’s relatively low percentage of Muslim and Jewish students, who may possess a personal ethnic stake in the conflict.”

Michael Canady is a sophomore from Northern Virginia studying classics and constitutional studies. He can be reached at

Photo credit: University of Notre Dame

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