Does the Boss Need to Weigh In on the War in the Middle East?
After reading the details of Hamas’ attacks on Israel on Oct. 7, Brad Karp, who runs the law firm Paul, Weiss, sat at his computer and wrote a memo to his roughly 2,000 employees.
He didn’t ask the firm’s spokesperson to draft it; he channeled his grief into a companywide email and hit send, just as he was moved to do after the overturning of Roe v. Wade and the killing of George Floyd. But as an American business leader condemning Hamas’ attacks, he said, he felt surprisingly lonely.
“I was disappointed that fewer leaders than I anticipated spoke out emphatically, clearly and with moral clarity on this issue,” Karp said. “If you asked any of these leaders whether they were horrified by the slaughter of innocent civilians by Hamas, they would tell you privately that they were horrified.”
Company executives have, over the past month, faced a dilemma that they’re by now well practiced in confronting: whether to engage with a large humanitarian or social issue — in this case, the war between Israel and Hamas. This time, many say, responding — with a public statement, internal discussion, a donation or even social media parameters for staff members — presents complexities that they have not experienced when wading into other recent social crises.
“If you release a statement about the damage of a hurricane, there’s nobody who will say, ‘Actually, that area of the country deserved a hurricane,’” said Iliya Rybchin, a partner at the consultancy Elixirr, who has advised dozens of Fortune 500 CEOs.
More than 200 U.S. businesses have issued statements condemning the Hamas attacks in Israel that killed roughly 1,400 people, according to a tracker from Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a professor at the Yale School of Management. Some business leaders made donations to humanitarian organizations and pointed their employees to company-sponsored mental health resources. A smaller number said they also communicated to their staff about the rising death toll of civilians in the Gaza Strip.
Adding to the complexities that executives are weighing, many U.S. companies have financial ties to Israel, but few have business interests to consider in Gaza, Sonnenfeld noted.
“No company does business in Gaza — as opposed to, say, in Russia, where there are 1,500 major companies doing business,” he said, comparing this war with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “It’s zero in Gaza.”
文／Emma Goldberg 譯／羅方妤