OpinionSchools & Higher Education

Antisemitic political cartoon goes viral at Harvard

And once again, the administration does nothing, despite a task force in place to attempt to make the campus safer.

Statue of John Harvard on the Harvard University campus in Cambridge, Mass. Credit: Jay Yuan/Shutterstock.
Statue of John Harvard on the Harvard University campus in Cambridge, Mass. Credit: Jay Yuan/Shutterstock.
Charlie Covit. Credit: Courtesy.
Charlie Covit
Charlie Covit is a freshman at Harvard University.

A political cartoon that has been recently published in a number of media outlets depicts a hand, adorned with a Star of David and a dollar sign, holding a noose around the necks of an Arab man and a black man, Gamal Abdel Nasser and Muhammad Ali.

While this cartoon was featured in a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) newsletter in June 1967, it has not been relegated to the history books. You could have found it in an Instagram post from Harvard Faculty and Staff for Justice in Palestine, a collective that, according to its website, included 111 Harvard educators at the time the post was shared.

The professors behind the post eventually took it down and issued a quasi-apology, noting that “it has come to our attention” that the post in question “was linked to our account.” Apparently, none of the 111 educators had noticed the antisemitism before it was pointed out to them.

The student groups that had also shared the caricature expressed “regret” and promised to “continue to create an intersectional movement grounded in love and liberation.” After Alan Garber, provost-turned-interim president in the wake of Claudine Gay’s resignation in January, announced an investigation, the students even apologized. They also released an updated post, replacing the cartoon with a reference to Kwame Ture/Stokely Carmichael, who regularly declared that “the only good Zionist is a dead Zionist.”

Welcome to Harvard.

Recently, I received a text from my Jewish professor: “Is it safe to exit the library yet?” he asked me. He had the misfortune of being inside Harvard’s iconic Widener Library when a pro-Palestinian rally began on its steps.

Hundreds of masked students were chanting, “from water to water, Palestine is Arab.” While launching accusations of genocide at Israel, they were in effect advocating for ethnic cleansing themselves.

Characteristically, Harvard made no effort to stop the rally, despite it contravening the supposed policy—reiterated by Garber at the beginning of his tenure—prohibiting unsanctioned protests in campus buildings. So after 90 minutes, my professor told me that he ended up sneaking out through the back door.

On a campus where it is acceptable to call for the ethnic cleansing of Israel, the inevitable consequence is that the most visible Jews—Orthodox and Israeli ones—will continue to face harassment. A friend who wears a kippah was cornered in the dining hall by two students asking if he was being “forced” to wear it. An Israeli friend, after appearing in a television interview on antisemitism, was mocked by a Harvard student on social media for “looking just as dumb as her nose is crooked.”

Posters of the hostages taken by Hamas have not been spared earlier. I walked out of my dorm room in Harvard Yard earlier this week to find two walls of them defaced with blood-red paint.

On Sidechat, an anonymous online platform limited to Harvard students, things are even worse.

“Y’all say the rhyme with me:/Harvard Hillel is burning in hell./Harvard Hillel is burning in hell. And they got funded by Epstein as well,” read one post. “stfu pedo lover! all of you Zionists are the same. Killers and rapists of children!” declared another.

To the administration’s credit, it has assembled an antisemitism task force, seemingly framed as an enhanced version of the advisory group then-president Gay organized in the fall. In the words of Harvard Hillel’s former student president, Jacob Miller, the “antisemitism advisory group came up with recommendations for the task force, and now the task force is going to come up with actual recommendations?!” If this sounds Orwellian, it’s because it is.

The university must take immediate action against the student groups that shared the antisemitic caricature—one of whom, it should be noted, is the African and African American Resistance Organization, whose members “self-identify” as “militant.” Harvard has also previously removed or forced out faculty for racist statements; there can be no double standard for antisemitism. (No matter that the members of Faculty and Staff for Justice in Palestine have, tellingly, removed their names from the website since the cartoon incident). Someone on Harvard’s faculty shared that cartoon knowingly, and they, at a minimum, should be named and censured.

In the words of Harvard Divinity School’s Visiting Scholar Rabbi David Wolpe, if such a blatantly antisemitic cartoon featuring a puppeteering Jew with a dollar sign on his hand “could pass so easily through their consciousness, an apology does not obviate the reality that they ‘buy’ such conspiracies at a very deep level. The consequences are less urgent than the reality that this is so real, deep and widespread.”

Wolpe is correct—if that cartoon could “pass so easily” through multiple student groups and a collective of 111 faculty and staff members, the university has a serious problem. The faculty and students who are essentially claiming they failed to recognize the cartoons’ antisemitic overtones demonstrate what is at best an alarming ignorance and at worst a tacit acceptance, of bias against Jews.

So it should come as no surprise that when Francesca Albanese, a U.N. special rapporteur known for her virulent antisemitism—the German Foreign Office has called her characterization of Oct. 7 “appalling”—came to speak at Harvard, Mathias Risse, the faculty director at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, rushed to defend her from a “massive onslaught of very destructive criticism.”

Compare that to the message the Jewish community receives, such as from a tenured Harvard professor who wrote to the antisemitism committee that “if Jewish student worries about physical danger are, in fact, exaggerated, students that hold these fears should be advised to leave campus and go home.”

Jewish students have gotten the memo. If Harvard cannot wake up at this moment, I worry that it never will.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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