Many social activists and media commentators seem to think reflexively that CEOs are the only voices in civil society. In the days following Hamas’s brutal attack on Israel, prominent well-meaning voices on both ends of the political spectrum have been calling out CEOs for their perceived silence, with the prevailing media narrative that business leaders are missing this key moment for corporate social responsibility.
This is an error. Those missing in action are other pillars of civil society, including major NGOs. In contrast, business leaders, such as the CEOs of JPMorgan, Microsoft, Google, Mastercard, NVIDIA, Citi, Paul Weiss, Deloitte, Starbucks, UPS, and Walmart, are stepping up and showing the moral courage expected by their employees in condemning Hamas’s invasion.
Not that one would know from the misleading media coverage. One mistaken recent critique from a leading human rights activist slammed the collective response of the CEO community as “disappointing at best, disastrous at worst.”
“In a world in which they [Hamas] are butchering babies, and they are raping women and talking about destroying the Zionist entity, for some reason most CEOs are ‘sitting it out’…..Most CEOs think it’s too political. It’s troubling that in a moment where the issues are clear, the responses are so muddled,” the activist opined.
In a misinformed attempt to drag in anti-woke politics, a New York Post column jeered that “corporate America has been oddly understated in its public expressions of condemnation…..wokeness remains a potent force in the C-suite; its occupants’ near-silence on the tragedy in Gaza is proof.”
From even a casual scan, our research team found more than 75 household-name, multinational companies have issued statements with strong condemnation of Hamas’s terrorism, irrefutably denouncing antisemitism and the atrocities committed by Hamas, as well as expressing support and solidarity with Israel and Jewish communities worldwide. A full list of which companies and CEOs have spoken out can be seen on our continuously updated webpage here, replete with links to their public press releases, with the tally growing exponentially by the day.
Companies are making their voices heard through:
- Offering strong condemnation of Hamas’s attack and global antisemitism with unequivocal moral clarity. For example, Dr. Albert Bourla, CEO of Pfizer, tweeted movingly: “I am heartbroken and furious to read the terrible news out of Israel. Terrorist actions, including the hostage-taking of civilians, the desecration of bodies, and the murder of children and the elderly, violate the most basic tenets of humanity and must be universally condemned in the strongest terms. I say this not as a corporate leader but as a scientist, as a son, and as a father.” Similarly, Brad Karp, the chair of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, stated: “We, as a community, unequivocally condemn the Hamas attack….empathically and swiftly condemn such grotesque and wanton terrorism….and stand in solidarity with Israel.”
- Offering financial largesse and philanthropic support, totaling hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars. For example, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon posted on LinkedIn that “after the news of the attack on Israel by Hamas last weekend and seeing an increase in antisemitic speech and hate crimes, the Walmart Foundation will donate $1 million to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum to support outreach programs to educate about the history and lessons of the Holocaust and the dangers of antisemitism to inspire people to confront hate and promote human dignity.”
- Expressing solidarity with Israel and communities worldwide and within their own companies. For example, Deloitte is proudly displaying an Israeli flag on its LinkedIn page while IBM CEO Arvind Krishna conveyed the loss of members of the IBM community, writing “I am sad to share that one IBMer was killed defending their family, and an IBM retiree also lost their life. We honor their memories…and will match donations 1:1: with two organizations in Israel.”
We have some credibility separating out companies that are genuine champions of values from those who are the pretenders. Over the past 18 months, we have been chronicling the positions of major multinational corporations that had been operating in Russia prior to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Our efforts have garnered significant media attention across the world as our transparent listing helped catalyze the mass exodus of over 1,000 companies from Russia. Not only is this the largest corporate stampede in world history, it has badly crippled Putin’s war economy, with many sectors down 60 to 90% in terms of economic productivity. We continue to vocally call out the remaining companies that still operate in Russia today.
Compared to the Russian business exodus, the strong moral stand by business leaders on Israel is different and more nuanced because taking identical forceful actions is not possible. Unlike Russia, few Western companies operated in Gaza or transacted with Hamas to begin with, so there is no mass corporate exodus. Similarly, in recognition of the suffering and anguish felt by many of their own employees, some companies are understandably prioritizing internal staff e-mail blasts and meetings with employee groups over news releases publicly trumpeting their solidarity.
Doing good is not antithetical to doing well–and it’s increasingly what investors, clients, employees, and other constituencies expect from CEOs. Not only did we previously find that socially responsible companies tend to outperform in the stock market, but recent Edelman Trust Barometer data shows that most employees around the world want to see their corporate bosses take stands on controversial public matters. Employees are 10 times more likely to accept employment at firms where CEOs speak out on global human rights matters. To those cynics who tell CEOs, “stay in your lane” and disparage them as woke, we ask, “What lane do you mean? The breakdown lane?”
The unmistakable moral clarity of the CEOs who spoke out is especially important since so much of the rest of civil society seems to be missing in action, oddly silent over Hamas’s targeting of innocent civilians, with the torture of reportedly 80% of the Oct. 7 victims including mass rapes, binding, knifing, and then torching people alive, the deaths of scores of toddlers, butchering infants before their parents’ eyes, and dragging bodies naked through the streets of Gaza to cheering crowds. Wouldn’t you imagine that human rights organizations would comment on such atrocities?
Instead, such groups offer intentionally ambivalent or evasive statements. Even in their initial statement about Hamas crimes on Oct. 7, Amnesty International repeatedly accused Israel of “war crimes.” In a subsequent statement, the secretary general of the human rights group blamed “Israeli forces” for “setting in motion mass forced displacement….sowing panic among the population of Gaza and leaving thousands of internally displaced Palestinians now sleeping on the streets”–without even a shred of condemnation for Hamas. Perhaps Amnesty International needs a reminder that it was Hamas, not “Israeli forces,” who murdered 1,300 Israeli civilians unprovoked, murdering babies, kidnapping grandmas, gunning down teens at a music festival celebrating peace, raping, assaulting, and parading women as trophies. Similarly, the U.S.-appointed executive director of UNICEF ludicrously called for the “immediate cessation of hostilities” the very first day of the Hamas attack, a call echoed by Save the Children, implying that Israel had no right to defend itself in the aftermath of the worst terrorist attack since September 11. Meanwhile, Oxfam continues to state that its top priority is to bring “an end to the occupation of Palestine by Israel.”
Perhaps the only group with an even more insensitive response has been higher education, whose initial ambivalence drew widespread criticism. UPenn’s new president finally did quell some of the ample alumni backlash when, belatedly, she acknowledged she could have handled the response better. Likewise, Harvard’s new president faced serious blowback from several prominent faculty members, such as Larry Summers and Jason Furman, for her initial silence before finally releasing a strong statement days afterward. Nevertheless, there were some positive examples to celebrate. Wesleyan’s venerated Michael Roth released a brief statement condemning Hamas within hours if not minutes of the attack.
The evasiveness of some of these civil society leaders brings to mind the bold insight of heroic former Atlanta Mayor and ordained Reverend Andrew Young who once told me, as a close ally of Martin Luther King, that “I have more faith in business than I have in the church, politics, almost anything else. And the reason is that there’s more freedom, and there’s more courage in our free enterprise system”. In stark contrast to the deafening science or cowardly ambiguity coming out of so much of the rest of civil society, business leaders have been uniquely strong in taking a stand against Hamas’s terrorism. Just as CEOs were at the forefront of global diplomacy pulling their companies out of Russia after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, they are now similarly on the front lines of moral clarity and social conscience after Hamas’s unconscionable atrocities against Israeli civilians. For this, they deserve kudos, not fact-free whines or howls of complaint from well-meaning but self-defeating activists.
Jeffrey Sonnenfeld is the Lester Crown Professor in Management Practice and Senior Associate Dean at Yale School of Management. He was named “Management Professor of the Year” by Poets & Quants magazine.
Steven Tian is the director of research at the Yale Chief Executive Leadership Institute and a former quantitative investment analyst with the Rockefeller Family Office.
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