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June 11, 2021 2:51 pm
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Over 850 Harvard Affiliates Denounce Antisemitism, ‘Demonization’ of Israel

avatar by Dion J. Pierre

Widener Library at Harvard University. Photo: Joseph Williams

Over 850 students, faculty and other affiliates of Harvard University have signed a statement in support of Israel’s “right to self-defense” and the “right of the Jewish people to self-determination,” which also criticized what it called the rise of anti-Israel activism on campus.

The letter comes amid a nationwide spike in antisemitism that included two recent acts of vandalism involving the Harvard Hillel building.

“As members of the Harvard community we stand by the State of Israel in its right to self-defense and by the right of the Jewish people to self-determination,” the letter said.

Circulated on May 28 by the campus group the Harvard Israel Initiative (HII) — and signed by Harvard affiliates such as literature scholar Ruth Wisse, economist Kenneth Rogoff, and Harvard Chaplain and Executive Director of Harvard Hillel Jonah Steinberg — it denounced a rise in anti-Jewish hate crimes and encouraged “civil discourse” when discussing Israeli-Palestinian relations.

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Other signatories included social psychologist Jennifer Lerner, attorney Alan Dershowitz, historian Niall Ferguson, and physician Jerome Groopman.

“We are tremendously saddened by the events of the last two weeks, starting with the tragic loss of innocent Israeli and Palestinian life, followed by a frightening spike in reported antisemitic attacks across the country and the globe, including cities such as New York and Los Angeles,” the letter said.

“When we see the State of Israel — the homeland of the Jewish people and the world’s only Jewish state — being demonized, delegitimized, or held to a standard to which no other country is held, we recognize and name this as antisemitism.”

The letter followed a May 21 statement signed by over 70 members of the Harvard faculty affirming their support for the “Palestinian liberation struggle” and demanding that the United States “condemn Israeli state aggression.”

Speaking to The Harvard Crimson on Thursday, Rabbi Steinberg stressed the importance of educating students about antisemitism.

“I perceive in our own place and time a distinct, alarming, and unhealthy negative fixation on Israel and Jewish community that is very different from attitudes expressed about any other people,” he said.

“I think we must find a way to raise consciousness among many students and faculty members about the wider historical phenomenon they verge into joining and stoking when the fixate uniquely on Israel and when the project guilt they themselves feel about privilege and relative security disproportionally onto Israel.”

Rising Harvard senior Sam Meyerson, who serves as vice president of of community relations at Harvard Hillel, said that the number of signatories to the letter “suggests that while the anti-Israel crowd may speak the loudest, they by no means represent the majority of Harvard affiliates.”

“I also believe that there is a strong link between the rhetoric that delegitimizes and demonizes Israel and the rise in antisemitic violence across the United States,” he told The Algemeiner. “At Harvard, the Hillel building was vandalized twice, and I find it difficult to imagine that these incidents were not fueled by vitriol directed against Israel by certain Harvard affiliates.”

Signatory and Professor of Government Harvey Mansfield said, “These acts have to be denounced as well as stopped.”

“Support for the Palestinians and opposition to Israel have for some time been the hallmark of the hard Left in America,” he wrote to The Harvard Crimson. “Recently, this malicious attitude has been adopted by Progressives at Harvard and elsewhere, an it has prompted attacks on Hillel in our campus.”

The HII letter concluded with a call for peace: “We hope for a solution to this conflict that will support self-determination for both Palestinians and Israelis and we pray for a day when all people  — Israeli, Palestinian, otherwise — can live in peace and dignity.”

Editor’s note: this article was updated with comments from a Harvard student

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