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April 20, 2016 4:00 pm

Dean of Harvard Law School Denounces ‘Smelly Tzipi Livni’ Comment as ‘Embarrassment to This Institution’

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Dean of Harvard Law School Martha Minow. Photo: Harvard Law Record/ Wikimedia Commons.

Dean of Harvard Law School Martha Minow. Photo: Harvard Law Record/ Wikimedia Commons.

The dean of Harvard Law School (HLS) issued a strong condemnation of a recent incident in which a visiting Israeli official was publicly insulted, calling it an “embarrassment to this institution,” The Algemeiner has learned.

Last Thursday, at a panel featuring former Israeli foreign minister and current member of Knesset Tzipi Livni  — and attended by several hundred people — an HLS student publicly asked, “My question is for Tzipi Livni. How is it that you are so smelly? It’s regarding your odor — about the odor of Tzipi Livni, very smelly.”

In an email sent out to the student body obtained by The Algemeiner, Dean Martha Minow wrote, “The comment was offensive and it violated the trust and respect we expect in our community. Many perceive it as antisemitic, and no one would see it as appropriate. It was an embarrassment to this institution and an assault upon the values we seek to uphold.”

Minow made clear that while free speech is a right shared by all, it “does not mean that hateful remarks should go unacknowledged or unanswered in a community dedicated to thoughtful discussion of complex issues and questions.”

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A current HLS student, who asked to remain anonymous, told The Algemeiner that “many HLS students, both Jews and non-Jews alike, felt very personally affected by the question.” He added, “The general impression by law students is that this crossed a line. Friends of the student in question, who spoke out on his behalf, are saying he did not intend to make an antisemitic comment. Rather, he wanted to insult and delegitimize the event.”

Following the incident, the presidents of the HLS Jewish Law Students Association (JLSA) wrote in an open letter published in The Harvard Law Record that the “antiquated and offensive notion of the ‘smelly Jews’ — [is] a term reeking of antisemitism.”

“Derogatory terms and stereotypes are not constructive,” they wrote. “They are divisive. They breed hatred and inhibit mutual understanding and respect. When this student suggested that Tzipi Livni was a ‘smelly Jew,’  he not only vilified her, but he vilified every Jewish student, faculty, and staff member at Harvard Law School. This antisemitic rhetoric is not acceptable. It is not dialogue. It is not productive. Rather, it is hate speech. It is offensive. It is wrong. A statement like this denigrates our school and our shared purpose, and we as a community cannot tolerate it.”

Sahand Moarefy, the president of the Middle East Law Students Association at HLS, issued a statement of solidarity with the JLSA, saying, “As the President of an organization dedicated to representing and serving students across the Middle East, including Israel, I deplore any attack on individuals based on their race, religion, or cultural heritage.”

The student who sparked the controversy — whose identity is being kept confidential — subsequently issued an apology to the JLSA. “I am writing to apologize, as sincerely as I can via this limited form of communication, to anyone who may have felt offended by the comments I made last week. To be very clear, as there seems to be some confusion, I would never, ever, ever call anyone, under any circumstances, a ‘smelly Jew.’ Such a comment is utterly repugnant, and I am absolutely horrified that some readers have been led to believe that I would ever say such a thing,” the student wrote in a statement published as an update to the JLSA letter.

“I want to be very clear that it was never my intention to invoke a hateful stereotype, but I recognize now that, regardless of my intention, words have power, and it troubles me deeply to know that I have caused some members of the Jewish community such pain with my words. To those people I say, please reach out. Give me an opportunity to make it right.”

The event at which the incident occurred — titled “The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict & the U.S.” —  was hosted by the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School and co-sponsored by the Jewish Law Students Association and Harvard Hillel. It entailed a conversation between Livni and American diplomat Dennis Ross, moderated by HLS Professor Robert Mnookin.

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