OpinionSchools & Higher Education

The real ‘context’

The president of Harvard and her colleagues called for “context” while ignoring the antisemitic context of their students’ rhetoric.

Claudine Gay of Harvard University. Source: YouTube/Screenshot.
Claudine Gay of Harvard University. Source: YouTube/Screenshot.
Rabbi Uri Pilichowski
Rabbi Uri Pilichowski
Rabbi Uri Pilichowski is a senior educator at numerous educational institutions. The author of three books, he teaches Torah, Zionism and Israel studies around the world.

Last October, students at Harvard University were told during a mandatory online Title IX training session that failing to use a person’s preferred pronouns could be a violation of the university’s sexual misconduct and harassment policies.

Many people are contrasting this kind of ultra-sensitivity to gender issues to Harvard president Claudine Gay’s stunningly insensitive recent testimony before Congress. Gay stated that calls for the genocide of the Jews may not violate Harvard’s codes of conduct. It depends, she said, on the “context.” Critics saw this as blatant hypocrisy.

Gay and her counterparts at MIT and the University of Pennsylvania, who also testified, likely justify their stance in two ways. They believe that 1) Calls for “intifada” and “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!” on campus are not calls to murder all Jews. 2) Students who call for an intifada or a “free Palestine” are advocating for the rights of Palestinians against an oppressive Israeli government. Such advocacy has nothing to do with Jews or Judaism but with the State of Israel and Zionism.

This is all well and good. The problem is that they are completely wrong. And ironically, they are wrong because they ignore the “context” of these slogans and the activists who use them.

When the slogans are understood in context, it becomes clear that they are anything but innocent calls for Palestinian rights. “Intifada” does not refer to a peaceful “resistance” or “uprising.” We know this from the facts of history. There were two Palestinian intifadas. The first occurred in the late 1980s and the second in the early 2000s. Both featured brutal Palestinian terrorist attacks, including suicide bombings, on innocent Israeli men, women and children. The activists who chant “intifada” know very well that this is precisely what they are calling for. Thus, there is no difference between calling for an intifada and calling for a lynching. Both are hate speech and incitement to violence.

The activists are also well aware of what they mean by “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!” They are calling for a Palestinian state in the place of the current State of Israel. The Jewish state was founded based on the Jewish people’s right to govern themselves in their historic homeland. This right was recognized by the international community. Moreover, after the Holocaust, it became clear that Jewish people are not safe without a place of refuge and their own government and army to protect them. Thus, the call for a Palestinian state in place of a Jewish state calls for the violation of fundamental Jewish rights and the reconstitution of Jewish powerlessness and vulnerability. This is clearly racist and antisemitic.

What is sad is that pro-Palestinian activism doesn’t need to be antisemitic. Advocates for a Palestinian state could call for a free and independent “Palestine” alongside the Jewish state, with both sharing the land “from the river to the sea.” They could call for peaceful opposition to Israeli policies. They could reject violence, whether in the form of intifadas, terrorism or the barbaric Oct. 7 massacre. They choose not to.

Gay and her colleagues were not looking for “context.” They were refusing to see the hate and racism on their own campuses. This alone requires their dismissal.

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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