update deskAntisemitism

Harvard rabbi challenges ‘power and money’ commencement speech

According to Nobel-laureate journalist Maria Ressa, her remarks referred to "Big Tech" and "attacks by politicians and business."

Maria Ressa at the launch of "Ambition, Destiny, Victory: Stories from a Presidential Election" at the Leong Hall Auditorium, Ateneo de Manila University, July 6, 2011. Credit: Joshua Lim (Sky Harbor) via Wikimedia Commons.
Maria Ressa at the launch of "Ambition, Destiny, Victory: Stories from a Presidential Election" at the Leong Hall Auditorium, Ateneo de Manila University, July 6, 2011. Credit: Joshua Lim (Sky Harbor) via Wikimedia Commons.

A Nobel-laureate journalist accused of antisemitism for her Harvard University commencement speech clarified on Saturday that by “money and power” she meant Big Tech, politicians and corporations, not Jews.

“Because I accepted your invitation to be here today, I was attacked online and called antisemitic. By power and money. Because they want power and money. While the other side was already attacking me because I had been onstage with Hillary Clinton. Hard to win, right?” said Maria Ressa during her commencement address on Thursday.

Her remarks disturbed Rabbi Hirschy Zarchi, the head of the Chabad House at Harvard, who walked off the state when Ressa refused to clarify her remarks, according to The Washington Times.

Rabbi Avraham Berkowitz, the president of executive coaching firm AZ Advisors, tweeted that it was “the walk-off of the year” and issued an impassioned plea for Ressa to clarify her remarks.

He noted that Ressa had had months to review and edit the speech—”a speech that you describe was more difficult for you to prepare than your Nobel Prize acceptance lecture.”

Noting her impressive record, he wrote, “Your words hold weight, and it’s vital to avoid ambiguity and imprecision, as they can lead people astray.”

In response, the journalist tweeted:

“Just landed in NY for meetings. On calls now. Thanks for your thoughtful words, but power and money referred to Big Tech and the attacks by politicians and business because they want power and money. Will be heading back to London tonight. Unfortunately in back to back meetings. Hope this helps!”

While he acknowledged in his tweet that her comments may have been directed not at Jews but against those accusing her online of antisemitism, Berkowitz went on to state, “You knew that your words would easily be misconstrued.”

Ressa’s was not the only controversial commencement speech at Harvard on Thursday.

Deviating from their prepared remarks, two out of the three student speakers took Harvard to task for excluding 13 pro-Palestinian student protesters from the graduation, according to the Times.

“And she said she loved those speeches?” asked Zarchi, referring to Ressa. “These were hateful protests that called for the destruction of Israel, for the murder of Jews with chants of ‘globalize the intifada,’” he said, according to the report.

Nor was Zarchi’s the only walkout during the ceremony; approximately 1,000 students staged a walk-out in protest against the university’s ban of the pro-Palestinian protesters, according to the Times.

Harvard Divinity School student Shabbos Kestenbaum, one of six students suing the university over campus antisemitism, said that the airing of antisemitic tropes at commencement was “the perfect way to encapsulate the sh—show of this year,” according to the Times.

“Harvard commencement was an absolute disaster and a breathtaking display of normalized antisemitism,” he said, according to the report.

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