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Harvard propped up Jew-hatred advisory group ‘for show,’ House committee report concludes

Harvard graduate student Shabbos Kestenbaum told JNS that it’s a “damning indictment” on higher education that “in order to receive equity and justice, we have to resort to the media, to Congress, to lawsuits.”

A House Judiciary Committee hearing on May 15, 2024 about campus antisemitism. Source: YouTube/House Judiciary Committee.
A House Judiciary Committee hearing on May 15, 2024 about campus antisemitism. Source: YouTube/House Judiciary Committee.

Harvard University ignored the advice of its own antisemitism taskforce and failed to implement common-sense measures to prevent discrimination against Jews on campus, according to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

A 42-page “investigative update” report that the committee released on Thursday is part of its ongoing investigation into Jew-hatred on campuses after Oct. 7.

Shabbos (“Alexander”) Kestenbaum, a religion and public policy graduate student at Harvard who is suing the university, alleging that it violated his civil rights, told JNS that Harvard’s administration has completely ignored the concerns of Jewish students.

“It is a damning indictment on higher education in the United States that in order to receive equity and justice, we have to resort to the media, to Congress, to lawsuits,” Kestenbaum told JNS.

“We’ve tried working with the administration, but they’re either unable or unwilling to do anything about it,” he said.

Kestenbaum testified before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday as part of its investigation into campus antisemitism. (On Thursday, he joined other Jewish college students meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill.)

Some Democrats on the education and judiciary House committees have questioned why the hearings focus exclusively on antisemitism and not also on other forms of hate. Kestenbaum told JNS that the complaint reminds him of his experience participating in Black Lives Matter marches.

“I remember arguing with people that while it’s true that ‘all lives matter,’ right now we’re discussing black lives because they are the ones who are being victimized at the moment,” Kestenbaum said. “Of course, all lives matter. Of course, Islamophobia and sexism and racism are horrible forms of discrimination. Right now, however, the conversation is antisemitism.”

The education committee’s report found that the policies of Harvard’s Office of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging didn’t seem to apply when the victims were Jews.

Harvard’s leaders and its Antisemitism Advisory Group “concluded that many of the antisemitic incidents could be addressed simply by enforcing existing non-discrimination and anti-bullying policies,” the report found.

“But Harvard’s Office of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging, which is responsible for implementation of non-discrimination and anti-bullying policies, did not do so,” the report says. “Harvard’s leaders have yet to apply these policies effectively in responding to reported antisemitic incidents.”

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), chairwoman of the education committee, said Harvard’s former president Claudine Gay and other administrators revealed a “deep-seated moral rot” in their failure to address the concerns of Jewish students.

“The committee’s report proves that former president Gay and Harvard’s leadership propped up the university’s Antisemitism Advisory Group all for show,” she said. “Not only did the Antisemitism Advisory Group find that antisemitism was a major issue on campus, it offered several recommendations on how to combat the problem—none of which were ever implemented with any real vigor.”

Those recommendations included “holding student organizations accountable for adhering to university rules,” “reviewing the academic rigor of classes and programs with antisemitic content” and having “‘zero tolerance’ of classroom disruptions.”

Gay resigned as Harvard’s president in January, following congressional testimony in December during which she said that a call for the genocide of Jews would not necessarily violate Harvard’s code of conduct, and amid later allegations that she plagiarized much of her academic work.

‘Reward then for bad behavior’

Alexandra Ahdoot, a rising senior at Duke University, told JNS that Duke appears to have experienced less widespread campus disruption and Jew-hatred than Harvard and other schools in recent months because it implemented basic policies to counter antisemitism.

“Our administration has been more on top of making students on both sides of the issue or students of all different groups follow the rules,” Ahdoot said. “Even with registering an event or a protest, our administration has been much more strict, cracking down and making them follow the rules.”

By contrast, Harvard has proven unwilling to carry out its own enforcement actions against participants in the unsanctioned anti-Israel protest encampment.

As part of the deal that Harvard leaders struck to end the campus occupation, they agreed to “reinstating at least 22 students from involuntary leaves of absence” and “recommending leniency and expediting disciplinary proceedings for more than 60 students facing conduct charges for involvement in the encampment,” per the education committee report.

As JNS spoke with Charlie Covit, a rising sophomore at Harvard, a group of anti-Israel protesters attempted to disrupt an adjacent press conference near the steps of the Capitol about the U.S. Victims of State-Sponsored Terrorism Fund.

“That’s what’s happening at Harvard all the time,” Covit told JNS. “Any Jewish event.”

He noted that Israeli pop star Ishay Ribo came to sing on campus. 

“There’s nothing ‘pro-genocide’ about Ishay Ribo singing,” he said. “We had a mob outside chanting terrible things and screaming.”

Kestenbaum, the Harvard grad student, joked that maybe if Jewish students adopted the tactics of anti-Israel protesters they could strike a deal of their own with school administrators.

“It seems that the only way that Jewish students will be given a seat at the table is if we call for the ethnic genocide of Muslims because supposedly that is acceptable behavior that has allowed Harvard to negotiate with them,” he said.

“It is unacceptable that you have mobs of students calling for the ethnic genocide of Jewish people, and rather than condemning them, rather than enforcing your policies, you reward them for their bad and antisemitic behavior,” he said.

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