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March 17, 2021 1:04 pm

Cornel West Again Blames Israel Views for Harvard Tenure Denial, as Jewish Student Leaders Call Petition ‘Absurd’ and ‘Harmful’

avatar by Sharon Wrobel

Widener Library at Harvard University. Photo: Joseph Williams.

Student representatives of Jewish and pro-Israel groups at Harvard University said they were “deeply hurt” by a petition drive in support of outspoken academic Cornel West, who in a recent interview reiterated claims that the university’s tenure rejection was based on his criticism of Israel.

“The University has granted tenure both to professors who have denounced the Jewish State and to those who have staunchly defended it. To suggest that, after all these years, the University would suddenly, inexplicably reverse course is not just far-fetched, it’s flat-out absurd,” said Sam Meyerson, VP of Community Relations at Harvard Hillel, and Sarah Bolnick, co-president of the group Harvard Israel Initiative, in a joint statement to The Algemeiner by email.

“West bringing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into the equation is uncalled for, and his assertion that his academic freedom was trampled on by supporters of the Jewish state — and by them alone — is baseless and harmful,” they said.

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. Earlier this month, 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.

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“If the Harvard administration were really seeking to silence people with explicitly anti-Israel views, surely they wouldn’t honor West by offering him a ten year extension to his prestigious professorship, not to mention an endowed chair in his name,” Meyerson and Bolnick said. “In fact, many Jewish students on campus think that Harvard needs to prioritize hiring and promoting more Black professors. Both are possible without demonizing and delegitimizing the existence of the State of Israel.”

In a March 14 interview with Haaretz, West again suggested that his criticism of Zionism has most likely played a central role in the university’s decision not to grant him a tenure, after saying that he had discounted his support for Sen. Bernie Sanders or Black Lives Matter as possible explanations.

“Then I thought of the Palestinian issue and the Israeli occupation – now that is a taboo,” West said. “You could hardly get a faculty member to raise a public voice being critical of Israeli occupation, they’re scared. There’s this fear among the faculty, and the staff.”

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