OpinionSchools & Higher Education

Harvard and Hamas

The bigotry of low expectations.

A smartphone showing the logo of Harvard University. Credit: g0d4ather/Shutterstock.
A smartphone showing the logo of Harvard University. Credit: g0d4ather/Shutterstock.
Ron Jager
Ron Jager served for 25 years as an IDF mental health field officer in operational units, including as commander of the Central Psychiatric Clinic for Reserve Solders at Tel-Hashomer. Visit his website at www.ronjager.com.

In today’s toxic public discourse, one cannot speak about antisemitism without antisemites invoking the war against Hamas to falsely accuse Israel of genocide, ethnic cleansing and apartheid. Unfortunately, Harvard University leaders, students and faculty are no exception.

Long before the Oct. 7 massacre, pro-Palestinian activists at Harvard were calling for Israel’s destruction and demonizing Jews. This incitement to murder was always accompanied by terms like “intifada,” “apartheid,” “resistance,” “occupation,” “breaking the siege,” “Zionist,” “genocide,” “decolonization,” “death to Jews,” “f— the Jews,” “all Jews should die,” “Hamas should kill more of you,” ”Israeli terrorism” and the popular genocidal slogan “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

American law defines the crime of “terroristic threats” as:

“A person commits the crime of terroristic threats if the person communicates, either directly or indirectly, a threat to: commit any crime of violence with intent to terrorize another; cause evacuation of a building, place of assembly or facility of public transportation; or cause terror or serious public inconvenience with reckless disregard of the risk of causing such terror or inconvenience.”

Terroristic threats can be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances; that is, as Harvard’s former president Claudine Gay notoriously said, according to “context.” Nonetheless, U.S. law is clear: Making such threats, even at a rally or demonstration, is a crime and those who do so are criminals.

Yet publicly defending Hamas and its actions has been awarded protection and vindication by Harvard leaders and faculty on ostensible “free speech” grounds. So, we may ask, what is this a defense of?

Army reservist Shari Mendes of the IDF’s Rabbinical Unit described the aftermath of Hamas’s rampage of war crimes: “It was often impossible for families to be shown faces and it seems as if mutilation of these women’s faces was an objective in their murders. … Our unit has seen bodies that were beheaded or had limbs cut off, mutilated. … Charred remains arrived and had to be identified and prepared for burial. The bodies were burned beyond recognition. … Sometimes we sifted through piles of ash that disintegrated as we touched them. These soldiers were burned. alive at very high temperatures.”

Empowering students at Harvard to defend such atrocities shows that the powers-that-be at Harvard do not expect Hamas and its student supporters to respect the sanctity of life to even the slightest degree. This is the definition of the bigotry of low expectations.

“The bigotry of low expectations” is a phrase coined by Michael Gerson. It is used to explain American teachers’ pervasive refusal to expect disadvantaged or minority pupils to meet the same standards of behavior and scholastic achievement applied to the general student population. Harvard’s Claudine Gay seems to be an excellent example of it. Despite a long history of plagiarism, including in her Ph.D. dissertation, she was nonetheless appointed president of the university. In retrospect, this shouldn’t be surprising, since Gay herself engaged in the bigotry of low expectations by justifying the antisemitic and pro-Hamas activities of Harvard faculty and students.

The behavior of this faculty and these students is itself a logical extension of the bigotry of low expectations. They demand that Israel be held to an impossible standard that damages its capacity for self-defense while holding Hamas to no standards whatsoever. This only perpetuates the racist view that Palestinians are incapable of actually conducting themselves as civilized human beings.

Now is the time for moral clarity. One need not be a supporter of Israel to condemn savage acts of terrorism unequivocally, with no attempt at justification or excuse. The leaders of Harvard must acknowledge the systemic culture of primal hatred directed at Jews and the State of Israel at their institution. Anything else is the bigotry of low expectations.

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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