update deskSchools & Higher Education

Harvard professors denounce university initiative on antisemitism

More than 100 academics across disciplines worry that efforts to counter Jew-hatred may threaten a core scholarly principle.

The Widener Library at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., Oct. 7, 2007. Credit: Joseph Williams via Wikimedia Commons.
The Widener Library at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., Oct. 7, 2007. Credit: Joseph Williams via Wikimedia Commons.

Recent efforts by administrators to push back against overt displays of antisemitism at the leading Ivy League institute have inspired pushback of its own.

A letter to Claudine Gay, Harvard’s president, co-signed by more than 100 Harvard faculty described feeling “astonished” that donors and alumni had allegedly tried to “silence faculty, students and staff critical of the actions of the State of Israel.”

The professors called themselves “profoundly dismayed” at Gay’s Nov. 9 “Combating Antisemitism” letter, fearing that Harvard’s “commitment to intellectual freedom and open dialogue seems to be giving way to something else entirely.”

“The antisemitism we are seeing targets Jews only because of the particular input entered into the woke script set by professors like these,” Max Eden, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told JNS. “They don’t want to see any harm come to students for following their deranged ideology, nor do they believe that pushback against their ideology is valid in the first place.”

While the group acknowledged limits to campus speech, such as Holocaust denial or insulting others based on racist, nationality, gender and LGBTQ orientations, it said that there must “be room on a university campus for debate about the actions of states, including of the State of Israel.”

The letter wrote that it “cannot be ruled as ipso facto antisemitic to question the actions of this particular ethno-nationalist government,” before comparing the Jewish state to Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe.

The professors further insisted that accusations labeling Israel as an “apartheid” state, or engaged in “ethnic cleansing” or “genocide,” should not be labeled as “automatically antisemitic.” The group accused Harvard administrations of the “delineation of the limits of acceptable expression on our campus is dangerously one-sided” and also defended the use of “from the river to the sea, Palestine must be free.”

In the name of “intellectual freedom at Harvard,” the letter concluded with four demands of administration.

First, insisting not to suspend the Palestine Solidarity Committee or “prematurely sanction” students and staff engaging in protests. Second, demanding that the President’s Advisory Group on Antisemitism explain its definition before recommending any policies. Third, articulating a commitment to “freedom of thought” for “critics of the State of Israel and advocates of the Palestinian people.”

Finally, the letter called for an advisory group on Islamophobia, anti-Palestinian racism and anti-Arab racism.

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