Sabrina Goldfischer

I wish I was surprised by my Harvard peers, but their response was written in the data

Like Israelis and Jews across the Diaspora, I am beyond horrified by the terrorism committed by Hamas in recent days, and am terrified for what is next. The militant group’s attack on Saturday generated the highest death toll of Jews in one day since the Holocaust. And around the world, their brutalities are being celebrated. Chants of “gas the Jews” filled the streets outside the Sydney Opera House, rhetoric that has echoed in rallies elsewhere. Like so many of us, I have spent the past few days reaching out to friends, family, and loved ones. Like Israelis and Jews across the Diaspora, I am not OK.

The reaction on Harvard’s campus has made headlines across the world. A statement authored by the Harvard Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC),  cosigned by more than 30 student organizations, held Israel “entirely responsible” for the violence in the Middle East, including the recent terror enacted by Hamas. This sort of proclamation has also been released by student organizations at other colleges, including Swarthmore and NYU. I wrote my senior thesis — which I completed just a few months ago — on antisemitism at Harvard. Regrettably, none of this surprises me: the culture for Jewish and Israeli students on Harvard’s campus has long been toxic.

I have spent all hours of the day and night reading about the countless atrocities committed against my people. My friends wrote an article for The Harvard Crimson which eloquently laid out exactly what has happened thus far, which I encourage you to read. 

So many people I admire have written articles, created graphics, and spread information to help draw attention to the truth of this issue. They have condemned those who have in any way argued for “buts” or “justifications” or “context.” They have condemned those who have tried to obfuscate the fact that what is happening against Israelis right now is terrorism. I have watched my Israeli peers spring into action, organizing solidarity events and helping with projects to support victims. I have seen my Jewish friends do the same. Their strength blows me away.

I wanted to weigh in on what is happening in my own way, because I spent over a year of my life researching and writing my senior thesis on the climate of antisemitism at Harvard — the last time I posted here on my blog was to discuss the results. After interviewing 60 Jewish-identifying students, I found that “68.75% of my Harvard student interviewees expressed that, at some point, their Judaism or connections to Israel made them censor themselves in academic or social settings. 62.5% said they had experienced antisemitism or know people who have…, [and] 83.33% said they have experienced anti-Zionism.” Students shared with me examples of discrimination and alienation, social or otherwise, that existed simply because of their Jewish or Israeli identities. One student told me that they “chose to not engage [in conversations about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict] because it is a topic where you can be seen as absurd for being pro-Israel, and [they] would rather maintain the reputation of being a ‘normal person’ on campus.” In another story from my thesis, a student told me about a first-year orientation program that purported to show incoming students the “bad parts of Harvard.” The tour included a stop at Harvard Hillel, suggesting it was a hostile environment for Palestinian students. You can read more in my thesis — I wrote pages and pages about what Jewish and Israeli students go through daily. 

This climate came from somewhere, and we see it unfolding right now on campuses across the nation. You can read about the demonstrations in recent days here. Groups like Harvard’s Palestine Solidarity Committee bear some of this responsibility. 

I want to be very clear: Harvard, in many ways, is a great place to be a Jewish student. The resources and mentors we can access, the organizations that support us, and the people that make up our community — they are incredible. I loved and am so grateful for my four years as an undergraduate. But that does not mean that we do not have a serious problem in our culture of a continuous toxic environment for Jewish and Israeli students, which, in recent days, has only gotten worse. The response of some Harvard students is atrocious, whether it be those who wrote or signed the PSC’s statement, or those who propagate on their social media hateful messaging that disregards, dismisses, or diminishes the destruction that Hamas has wrought. But, these responses were never beyond the realm of possibility, as my research indicates. 

Why does it matter that the issues in Harvard’s campus facing Jewish and Israeli students started before October 2023? It is because addressing them is going to take systemic change: change as systemic as antisemitism is pervasive and deep-rooted on Harvard’s campus, as it is at colleges across the country. Statements condemning those who express support for Hamas and calling for student groups who have signed on with the PSC’s statement to take accountability are only first steps. Our campus, like many others, needs real change for Jewish and Israeli students. My findings showed me that Jewish and Israeli students self-censor their views on Israel in order to avoid alienation or other social or academic consequences. Anti-Zionist and antisemitic rhetoric has been experienced by an overwhelming amount of students in my research. We need to make our college campuses safe places for Jewish and Israeli students to unapologetically embrace their full identities.  

At this moment, campuses need to support their Jewish and Israeli students in being loudly and proudly themselves — for far too long, many students have felt the need to minimize or hide these parts of their identity. These identities we cannot allow to be relegated to the taboo. While I am no longer a Harvard student, I could not be prouder of what my Israeli and Jewish peers are doing, at Harvard, and across campuses nationally. 

About the Author
Sabrina Goldfischer graduated from Harvard College in May 2023 with a degree in Government and a secondary in Jewish Studies. Originally from Poughkeepsie, NY, she served as President of Harvard Hillel during the 2021 academic year, and worked as the Harvard Hillel Intern for Combating Antisemitism in spring of 2023. She wrote her senior thesis on antisemitism at Harvard College.
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