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March 11, 2021 3:03 pm

Head of Harvard University Hillel Blasts Student Petition Supporting Academic Cornel West as ‘Anti-Jewish Conspiracy Theory’

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

Widener Library at Harvard University. Photo: Joseph Williams.

The head of the Harvard University Hillel strongly criticized a petition in support of prominent Harvard professor Cornel West that echoes the scholar’s claims that he was denied tenure because of his attacks on Israel and Zionism.

The Harvard Crimson reported Thursday that Rabbi Jonah C. Steinberg, the executive director of Harvard Hillel, sent an email to Hillel affiliates saying the petition promulgated “an anti-Jewish conspiracy theory” and that West had “egged students on” in promoting it.

The petition — which has been signed by more than 1,800 people and endorsed by over 90 campus organizations — cited West’s claims that he was denied tenure because of his attacks on Zionism, which it listed alongside “white supremacy” and “racial capitalism” as targets of the professor’s work.

Steinberg said, “It is painful to see representatives of so many student organizations maneuvered into signing a petition that attaches itself to a long chain of demonizing anti-Jewish libels through the centuries.”

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“Student leaders who have signed the petition likely do not realize how the words ‘Israel’s occupation of Palestine’ are used to suggest that the entire country of Israel is illegitimate, and perhaps they are not sensible of how eliding ‘white supremacy, racial capitalism, Zionism, and the military-industrial complex,’ as the petition does, is a dangerous ethnic slander,” he added.

A member of the student coalition that wrote the petition, Jeremy Stepansky, told the Crimson that the petitioners “vehemently reject the conflation of the Zionist state of Israel with the Jewish people.”

West reiterated his claims to the outlet, saying, “I do think the support of this critique of Israeli occupation is a plausible hypothesis” for the denial of tenure “given what I know about earlier candidates who have been denied.”

West said he wants to have a “public discussion about Israeli politics, Israeli occupation” with Steinberg, and said it should be “respectful.”

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