Doron Junger
Word from the diaspora

Whatever happened to ‘Veritas’, Harvard?

Embed from Getty Images

Parents, including me, have long harbored aspirations for their children to attain a first-class education and attend an elite university, with Harvard likely topping the list of reach schools. Not anymore. The damage done to the Harvard brand by faculty that allows its ideologic and antisemitic biases to compromise the university’s intellectual and moral leadership is inestimable. It should come as absolutely no surprise that Harvard undergraduates, alumni and donors are consternated about the morass into which their once-beloved bastion of academic instruction has been allowed to sink. Not until the university dramatically course-corrects, by replacing intellectually feeble and ethically bankrupt faculty members, and establishing a safe environment for all protected minorities in need of protection, chief of all – in the current climate – its Jewish students, will this damage be reversed.

Last week, in the name of “academic freedom”, 120 Harvard professors, lecturers and instructors (around 5% of its faculty) sent a letter to university president Claudine Gay, which – as the NY Post described it on Thursday – condemned her “for issuing a statement opposing antisemitism on campus — claiming she was bowing to the interests of wealthy donors and alumni, and was infringing on the free speech of students.”

Their own screed betrays these faculty members’ intellectual and moral corruption.

The letter begins with its signatories expressing astonishment at “the pressure from donors, alumni, and even some on this campus to silence faculty, students, and staff critical of the actions of the State of Israel.” From the outset, they signal their tone-deafness to the nature of the outrage expressed by so many who were appalled by recent events at Harvard. These events include both the publication on the night of Hamas’ heinous attack on Israel of an open letter penned by several dozen Harvard affiliate organizations, and a campus atmosphere in which several days later a mob of pro-Palestinian students physically aggressed and intimidated, in broad daylight and with apparent impunity, a reportedly Israeli student. The letter referred to Israel as “the apartheid regime” and blamed it exclusively for the worst loss of Jewish life since the Holocaust, while also propagating the false trope of Gaza as ‘an open-air prison’ and spuriously accusing Israel, in its immediate response to Hamas’ attack, of the indiscriminate and brutal slaughter of Gazan civilians. Far from primarily aiming to merely silence these students, the criticism leveled at Harvard following these events deplores the students’ intellectual immaturity, their lack of respect for fellow students, and the descent of the level of academic discourse they consider acceptable.

On the one hand, the faculty – in its letter – allows that “there should surely be limits to what is speakable, even in a university. Saying things that are plainly untrue – denying the Holocaust, for example – merits condemnation.“ Why then would it, on the other hand, categorize as arguable the equally false characterization of Israel as an “apartheid” state, and its recent actions as “ethnic cleansing” or even “genocide”? The signatories state – correctly of course – that “words have meaning”. So let’s examine the meaning of these terms, beginning with “ethnic cleansing”, which is defined as “the systematic forced removal of ethnic, racial or religious groups from a given area, with the intent of making a region ethnically homogeneous.” In which universe would an intellectually honest observer thus describe Israel’s actions in Gaza? Israel unilaterally withdrew from the Strip in 2005, and to this very day lays no territorial claim on it. Next, ‘apartheid’. Israel is not a perfect democracy, but to what extent would any person, other than a blatant ignoramus, apply to Jewish-Arab coexistence in modern Israel the use of the term “apartheid” – an originally Afrikaans word coined to describe the repugnant system of institutionalized racial segregation that existed in South Africa from 1948 to the early 1990s? Israeli Arabs have an equal vote, serve in the IDF, are elected as Members of the Knesset in Israel’s Parliament, and have attained leadership positions in all walks of life, including in the military, the media and on Israel’s supreme court. Nowhere else in the Middle East do Arabs enjoy the rights extended to them as citizens of Israel’s liberal democracy. Misusing the term apartheid to describe the status between Israelis and Gazans or Palestinians in the West Bank is willfully blithe to the fact that these Arabs are not of course Israeli citizens, and governed by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, respectively. And lastly, how can any serious intellectual accuse the Jews – of all people – of “genocide” (meaning “the deliberate killing of a large number of people from a particular nation or ethnic group with the aim of destroying that nation or group”) in Gaza with a straight face? Never mind that the IDF does more to distinguish between civilian and military targets than any other force in the history of warfare. Grim as this math is, since Israel launched its counter-offensive in Gaza, the casualty figures provided by the Hamas-controlled Gazan Health Ministry (which it absurdly never corrects for terrorists, civilians killed by terrorists, or deaths from natural causes), represent approximately the same fraction of the population as the most conservative estimates of German civilians killed during WWII by the Allied bombing campaign, which was never considered genocidal. And as for Israel’s actions prior to October 7, the Gazan population has approximately doubled since the year 2000; it is among the world’s youngest population and has one of the world’s highest birth rates. Israel seems to really suck at genocide!

The signatories of the letter write that “the phrase “from the river to the sea, Palestine must be free” has a long and complicated history.” Its history is not – in fact – so long, and not so complicated either. Its origin is the Arabic phrase “from the water to the water, Palestine will be Arab”. Its meaning is pretty clear: a call for a ‘judenrein’ Middle East. There is but one intellectually honest and ethical approach to handling such speech on the campus of a US academic institution: ban it. If it is no longer tolerated on X, why should it be at Harvard? Its unequivocal repudiation is the kind of moral and intellectual leadership the public is looking for from Harvard, and reasonably so. And yes, singling it out is exactly the right course of action, irrespective of what you think about Israel’s policy or the plight of Gazan civilians, not a step “badly misjudged as an act of moral leadership” as the Harvard faculty members who put their names to the letter argue.

They go further, calling for the phrase to receive “sustained and ongoing inquiry and debate”, and deny that it necessarily implies “removalism or even eliminationism” of Jews when that is precisely what it does. This equivocation and misplaced open-mindedness when faced with antisemitic hate speech are deplorable. The KKK had a few choice chants too. Are those up for “ongoing inquiry and debate” too now? I think not. One can indeed be so open-minded that one’s brains are at risk of falling out.

To be clear, the issue is not, as the authors of the letter wish to frame it, primarily centered around freedom of speech. It is about the lack of opprobrium and condemnation issued by Harvard, at an institutional level, in response to deplorable speech deserving of such censure. Yes, the students are free under the law to make abject fools of themselves, just not to get away with it scotch free. Instead of castigating these students, Harvard did the opposite: it vigorously protected them, out of apparent confusion between protecting their right to free speech – which is laudable – and of the students’ status at the University and future employment prospects, which as a consequence of their actions should most definitely not remain wholly unscathed and intact.

The world expected more from Harvard students and its faculty. It expected of at least that faction that took to publicly opining on current events in the region to know that 2 million Israeli Arabs have seen the size of their population in modern day Israel only rise, and to realize that – in light of all the IDF is doing to minimize the loss of civilian lives in Gaza – it is a blood libel to accuse Israel of genocide. To assert otherwise is tantamount to setting a double standard uniquely applicable to Israel, that – according to any system of delineation between valid criticism of Israel’s policies on the one hand and a modern-day version of the world’s oldest hatred on the other – distinctly falls in the latter category, and deserves to be called out as such. Anyone at Harvard or elsewhere confused about the distinction between the two should familiarize themselves with Nathan Sharansky’s “3D” test and the IHRA’s definition of antisemitism.

One last point: the set of actions the professors call for are highly problematic, for two reasons. The first is that they specifically include “resisting calls to suspend and/or decertify the Palestine Solidarity Committee in retaliation for its public statements and advocacy”. The call to disallow the PSC, which is synonymous with Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), is not retaliatory, it is the appropriate response to an organization verifiably funded by jihadists, as the House Ways and Means Committee heard just last week (in testimony provided by Noa Tishby, Israel’s former Special Envoy for Combating Antisemitism), one that encourages its activists to cover their faces using masks or kaffiyehs when protesting, and whose on-campus presence renders the prevalence of antisemitism at a university statistically speaking 8 times more likely. It was on the PSC’s Instagram page that the pro-Palestinian students’ anti-Israel statement was first published on October 7. This particular pro-Palestinian group has no legitimate place on US university campuses. The second is that among the four action steps that the letter demands is a call for the creation of “an advisory group on Islamophobia and anti-Palestinian and anti-Arab racism”, which fails to fully acknowledge the uniquely shocking degree of hostility Jewish students currently experience at Harvard, and creates a wholly false symmetry between their predicament and that of other minorities, including Muslim and Arab students. It is only Jewish students who are threatened by masked mobs, only Jewish students who are being locked in library attics and ushered out of back entrances to keep them safe, and only Jewish students who justifiably feel personally targeted by the kind of ‘resistance’ national SJP jubilated in on October 7 (calling Hamas’ attack “a historic victory”) and then advocated for an entire day of as a macabre encore on October 12. To the extent individual pro-Palestinian students are being targeted, it is as a direct consequence of their deliberately incendiary statements and actions. In contrast, Jewish students are targeted for who they are and what they symbolize.

On-campus antisemitism is not unique to Harvard – but typical of Harvard, it excels at it. What makes the discovery that it is endemic so disappointing, is that you least expected it from a US academic institution that is a point of national pride. I am painfully aware that the recent record in the matter of on-campus antisemitism at my own alma mater, Oxford University, hardly affords me a perch on a high horse; it is not unblemished. But Harvard’s sigil famously speaks to the university’s dedication to the truth, that beautiful ideal. A sizeable faction, at the very least, of the institution’s leadership has instead committed itself to obfuscation of the truth, and the dissemination of an alternate set of non-facts in service of an ugly ideology.

About the Author
Doron Junger MD, a German Jew, is a US-based investment fund manager focused on the biotechnology and pharmaceutical sectors. A surgeon by background, he attended Carmel College, and graduated from Oxford University with a medical degree and from INSEAD with a Masters degree in Business Administration. He lives in Miami with his Israeli wife and three children.
Related Topics
Related Posts