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April 2, 2019 5:48 pm

Jewish Students at Harvard University Voice Concerns Over Campus ‘Israeli Apartheid Week’

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Widener Library at Harvard University. Photo: Joseph Williams.

Multiple Jewish students at Harvard University have raised concerns over the divisive nature of ongoing “Israeli Apartheid Week” (IAW) programming on campus, which the school’s Undergraduate Council voted on Sunday to support with $2,050 in funding.

Hosted at Harvard by the Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC), IAW takes place annually at various colleges worldwide and aims to bolster the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.

PSC programming, which started on Saturday and will last until Friday, included a performance by BDS activist and poet Remi Kanazi on Monday, and will continue on Tuesday evening with a panel on “Black-Palestinian Solidarity” featuring Harvard professor Cornel West, Temple University professor Marc Lamont Hill, and Palestine Legal director Dima Khalidi. San Francisco State University professor Rabab Abdulhadi will speak on Thursday, while BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti — originally slated to remotely address IAW participants — will give an in-person lecture at Harvard later this month, PSC said.

Concerns were expressed about the event’s impact on the Jewish community during Sunday’s Undergraduate Council meeting, where representatives voted 21-13-4 to fund IAW, the student-run Harvard Crimson reported. The money will be drawn from the Council’s Grant for an Open Harvard College, which for 2018-19 school year seeks to support student initiatives on “mental health, race, culture, and faith relations, sexual assault and harassment prevention, social spaces, and financial accessibility.”

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Finance Committee Chair Noah Harris told the Crimson that the event would only need to address “race relations” in order to fulfill the grant requirements, rather than work toward their improvement. Many council members made clear that their decision to approve funding — which will cover food, venue, and decor, but not speaker expenses — was not necessarily an endorsement of IAW, the paper added.

The decision was nonetheless opposed by multiple students who attended the Council meeting to express reservations about IAW, particularly its failure to promote open debate and past statements by some speakers that appeared to endorse violence against Israeli civilians. “One of the speakers that is slated to come, Omar Barghouti, has said that he supports the euthanasia of Zionism,” said sophomore Gabriel Dardik. “Really, it makes me feel unsafe that this kind of person could come here.”

PSC member Anwar Omeish, a senior, in turn charged that Harvard Hillel “has consistently hosted members of the Israeli military who have led operations that kill Palestinian civilians.”

In a Monday statement shared with The Algemeiner, Rebecca Thau — president of Harvard Hillel’s Undergraduate Steering Committee — said the “contentious nature” of the Council meeting “underscores what we see as the troubling consequences of Israeli Apartheid Week itself: vilifying students for their commitments and even their heritages, turning students away from — rather than toward — one another, and preventing meaningful conversation.”

“I had hoped for a respectful discussion, and I thank the Council for their efforts to maintain decorum,” she continued. “Those of us who came from Harvard Hillel were met, however, with angry interjections and unfounded accusations, as well as references to age-old tropes of prejudice and bigotry. I was shocked and disappointed by the way in which students were prevented from expressing their very real concerns because of uncivil interruptions.”

Ilan Goldberg, co-president of the Hillel-affiliated Harvard Israel Initiative, said that while students who both supported and opposed the funding had a chance to speak at the UC meeting, “those advocating for the funding made it clear that the week will be detrimental to race relations and to dialogue.”

“Unfortunately, the majority of the UC saw this as a mere procedural vote, rather than taking on it with the weight it deserved — as funding for a week that will host speakers who support violence against Israeli civilians and suppress genuine dialogue,” Goldberg told The Algemeiner.

He was apprehensive about the inclusion of IAW speaker Kanazi, who has compared Zionism to the Ku Klux Klan and supported a Palestinian activist convicted of killing two college students in Jerusalem in 1969, as well as the event’s ability to encourage an open discussion on Israel. “As evidenced by the behavior of those advocating for the funding at the meeting,” Goldberg said, “the week is about giving a loud voice to the Palestinian cause as told by the PSC — unnecessarily at the expense of any substantive dialogue at their events.”

PSC did not immediately respond to The Algemeiner‘s request for comment.

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