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Harvard Was Unresponsive to Antisemitism, House Committee Finds

Written by on May 16, 2024

Harvard University was slow to react to a wave of hostility against Jewish students last fall and ignored recommendations from an advisory group it created to address rising antisemitism, according to a report released Thursday by the Republican-led House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

“Former President Gay and Harvard’s leadership propped up the university’s Antisemitism Advisory Group all for show,” said committee chair Rep. Virginia Foxx (R., N.C.), in a statement.

The committee’s investigation began several months after the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on Israel, in which about 1,200 Israelis were killed. Shortly after the attack, the Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee published a statement, cosigned by more than 30 other Harvard student organizations, saying they held “the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence.”

That letter, in conjunction with a delayed condemnation of Hamas by Harvard’s then-President Claudine Gay, generated broad criticism by prominent members of the Jewish community at Harvard and beyond.

Harvard spokesman Jason Newton called the committee’s report “disappointing.”

“Across 17 submissions, including more than 30,000 pages of information, Harvard has continued to cooperate with the Committee’s inquiry and address their ongoing questions,” he said in an email. “It is disappointing to see selective excerpts from internal documents, shared in good faith, released in this manner, offering an incomplete and inaccurate view of Harvard’s overall efforts to combat antisemitism last fall and in the months since.”

Below are the main takeaways from the committee’s report, which was based largely on interviews and subpoenaed internal university communications.

Harvard failed to investigate and discipline alleged acts of antisemitism against individuals

The report found that the school’s administration failed to properly investigate individual acts of antisemitic harassment after Oct. 7.

One undergraduate wearing a yarmulke was spat on, according to the report. Another Jewish student was followed back to her dormitory while a tutor screamed at her. Threats on a social-media chatboard called Sidechat—available only to those with Harvard emails—included calls to “gas all the Jews” and “let em cook,” the report said. Those comments drew 25 net upvotes.

Rules to prevent this sort of behavior fell under antibullying harassment policies, which are under the purview of the school’s office of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging. The office didn’t respond to complaints, the report said.

In late October, Gay announced the formation of the eight-member antisemitism advisory group composed of Harvard faculty, alumni and a student representative. Its job, she said, was to “develop a robust strategy for confronting antisemitism on campus.”

Feeling that their complaints weren’t being addressed by the university, some Jewish students approached individual members of the advisory group, which included Dara Horn, an alumnus, novelist and former visiting lecturer of Jewish Studies at Harvard. The students asked why the administration wasn’t responding to their complaints of antisemitic harassment.

“Jewish students don’t feel like we’re taking this seriously,” Horn said, according to the report.

In response, Harvard said its university police department has increased “presence and patrols” where members of Harvard’s Jewish community gather. It also said the school has coordinated with Sidechat to ensure that platform’s content-moderation guidelines are strictly enforced.

Harvard failed to curtail antisemitism within pro-Palestinian protests

The report paints a picture of an overwhelmed and indecisive administration, which failed to apply university rules to protesters engaged in antisemitic behavior.

Members of the advisory group demanded a series of actions, including that the school acknowledge the chants “from the river to the sea” and “intifada” are antisemitic calls for Israel’s elimination through violence. The advisory group also asked the school to immediately ban masked protests and prohibit teaching staff from pressuring students to engage in political activism. When they felt the administration was failing to act, five members threatened to resign.

Gay responded by saying a mass resignation would be “explosive, and would make things even more volatile and unsafe.” On Nov. 9, she issued a statement condemning the protesters’ chants of “from the river to the sea” and pledged to address some of the concerns but members remained frustrated, the report said.

In its response, Harvard said it has made clear that violations of policies concerning protest and dissent will be subject to disciplinary processes and that disruptions of university activities will be subject to the same disciplinary treatment regardless of the content of the demonstration.

President Claudine Gay didn’t consult the advisory group on antisemitism ahead of her congressional testimony

The advisory group was upset that Gay didn’t consult with it before her congressional hearing or acknowledge in her testimony that antisemitism at Harvard was pervasive.

Instead, according to the advisory group, Gay wrongly left the impression that the bulk of the problems revolved around public protests.

“ That did not capture the extent to which this was a pervasive, I would say, systemic problem on campus,” Horn said in an interview with the committee. “I felt that her testimony did not acknowledge that, and that was disappointing to me and to others on the committee.”

Two days after her congressional hearing, advisory board member Rabbi David Wolpe resigned, writing: “Both events on campus and the painfully inadequate testimony reinforced the idea that I cannot make the sort of difference I had hoped.”

In April, Harvard said, the school announced the establishment of two working groups to recommend how the university can most effectively nurture and reinforce a culture of open inquiry, constructive dialogue and academic freedom.

Harvard failed to make public the number of cases of reported antisemitic harassment

Because the advisory group felt some in the Harvard community and beyond were denying that antisemitic harassment on campus was a widespread problem, it asked the school to reveal the number of reports it had received related to antisemitism.

The school paid lip service to this idea, but never publicized either the reports of harassment or any disciplinary action taken, the report said.

Harvard should take other steps as well

The advisory group also made some more recommendations, which the report said the university has yet to take up. They include creating a zero-tolerance policy for classroom disruptions; reviewing the academic rigor of classes that the group views as having antisemitic content; increasing intellectual diversity on campus and investigating the potential influence of “dark money” from Iran, Qatar and associates of terrorist groups on campus.

The report also said that the advisory group has asked the school to review the office of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging to understand why it was ill-equipped to address issues of exclusion and harassment of Jewish and Israeli students and to overhaul approaches to inclusion and diversity that may have inadvertently encouraged antisemitism.

Harvard said a task force designed to combat antisemitism is now reviewing the treatment of Jewish and Israeli students at the school since the 1960s to identify the causes, characteristics and contributing factors of antisemitic behaviors on campus and to recommend approaches to fight it.

 

By Douglas Belkin


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