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May 5, 2022 4:43 pm
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Harvard Faculty Group Denounces Crimson Newspaper BDS Endorsement

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avatar by Dion J. Pierre

Harvard Yard, c. 2017. Cambridge, Massachusetts. Photo: Marco Almbauer/Wikimedia Commons.

Harvard University faculty have issued a letter expressing “dismay” over the Harvard Crimson Editorial Board’s endorsement of the boycott, divestment, sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.

Organized by the Academic Engagement Network (AEN), its signatories include psychology professor Steven Pinker, the law school’s Jessie Fried, and former university president Larry Summers.

“While we may not agree with every point in this statement, and there are many diverse perspectives among us on issues of Israeli policy, the boundaries of academic freedom, and the role of universities as political actors, we are united in our opposition to BDS and the Crimson stance,” the letter said. “BDS compromises educational goals by turning the complex and intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict into a caricature that singles out only one side for blame with a false binary of oppressor versus oppressed.”

The group is the latest to criticize the Harvard Crimson for writing last week that it supports the BDS movement, which rejects Zionism and seeks to isolate the Jewish state using academic, economic, cultural and political boycotts.

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The Harvard faculty letter continued, “Zionism — the right of the Jewish people to a homeland and self-determination — is a millennia-old tradition, with deep roots in Jewish history and religious practice. It is also a more recent political response to the utter failure to produce freedom and safety for Jews living in most places in the world. To treat Zionism as an illegitimate and oppressive movement, as BDS does, is to ignore history and to deny empathy, respect, and dignity to Jews.”

The group also called on the Crimson to “repair the damage caused by writing such a divisive staff editorial” one day after Yom HaShoah, Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“We also hope the students who report and write for Harvard’s treasured and beloved Crimson, the oldest continuously published campus daily in the United States, will turn to us for more information and insight into the issues and concerns that we have raised in this statement. Our doors are always open,” they said.

Last week’s editorial stirred intense debate on campus, with one student and Crimson staff member writing in a Wednesday op-ed that the BDS movement “is not just a boycott; BDS rejects Jewish self-determination altogether.”

“Israel is not perfect, nor is any other country,” Crimson Associate News Editor and Harvard Hillel President Natalie L. Kahn wrote in the paper. “But this editorial is part of a larger trend of singling out Jews, conveniently neglecting our half of the story — and by extension our right to self-determination — while claiming to ‘oppose antisemitism.'”

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, described the editorial last week as “deeply disturbing.”

Just imagine if the Crimson would have instead promoted engagement and dialogue, and sponsored efforts on campus & beyond to build foundations for a future of self-determination, security and peace for both Israelis and Palestinians,” he said.

Harvard University is the second Ivy League campus in a month to see a push to support BDS, following an April  referendum at Princeton University that weighed a boycott of the Caterpillar Inc. construction company over its business with Israel.

In their letter, the Harvard faculty said “many well-meaning people with no hate in their hearts, including those at Harvard, gravitate to this movement believing that offers a means for advancing Palestinian rights and peace in the Middle East.”

“The reality is that BDS merely coarsens discourse on campus and contributes to antisemitism,” they argued. “In seeking to delegitimize Israel through diplomatic, economic, academic, and cultural isolation, and by opposing the very notions of Jewish peoplehood and self-determination, BDS is disrespectful of Jews, the vast majority of whom view an attachment to Israel as central to their faith and identity.”

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