FIRST ON THE DAILY SIGNAL—Orthodox Jewish leaders condemned The Harvard Crimson, the student newspaper of Harvard University, for “whitewashing” antisemitism in a series of op-eds published at the tail end of 2023.

Although Harvard’s efforts to respond to antisemitism on campus after Hamas’ terrorist attacks Oct. 7 in Israel drew early scrutiny, the university took the spotlight even more after its president, Claudine Gay, said at a Dec. 5 congressional hearing that calls for genocide against the Jewish people may not violate Harvard’s policies against harassment, depending on context. Gay resigned Tuesday amid a plagiarism scandal; concerns about Harvard’s failure to clamp down on antisemitism remain.

The Harvard Crimson published “Antisemitism at Harvard, According to Seven Jewish Affiliates” on Dec. 29, a package of five “op-eds,” three of which warn against the “weaponization of antisemitism” against pro-Palestine protesters.

One op-ed claims that “Jewish safety—in Israel and the diaspora—is inextrictably intertwined with Palestinian liberation.” In another, a former executive director of Harvard Hillel condemns “today’s McCarthyist tactic of manufacturing an antisemitism scare, which, in effect, turns the very real issue of Jewish safety into a pawn in a cynical political game to cover for Israel’s deeply unpopular policies with regard to Palestine.”

Some essays acknowledge the deep pain that Israelis and American Jews feel since the Hamas attacks of Oct. 7 in southern Israel, where terrorists slaughtered more than 1,200 people, including women and children, and raped women while murdering them.

An op-ed criticizing the disturbing denial of Jewish grief in the wake of Oct. 7 included this caveat: “We are not blind to the fact that charges of antisemitism have been politicized and weaponized to silence criticism of Israel—including silencing calls for a cease-fire.”

Other Jewish leaders condemned such statements.

Rabbi Yaakov Menken, managing director of the Coalition for Jewish Values, which represents more than 2,500 Orthodox Jewish rabbis in American public policy, said the essays surfaced by The Harvard Crimson were “reflective of an academic effort to whitewash antisemitism.”

“They problem is the reverse of what they say,” Menken told The Daily Signal in a phone interview Tuesday. “Several of the pieces explicitly referred to the weaponization of antisemitism to somehow exonerate Israel. Instead, in reality, the articles reflect an academic effort to whitewash antisemitism by using Israel as a fig leaf.”

“Anyone who justifies mass rapes, burnings, beheadings, and captive taking is not a civilized human being,” Menken said. “How is it not antisemitic to make an exception when the victims are Jews?”

Menken also condemned calls for “Palestinian liberation” that appear in some of the op-eds presented by the Crimson.

“As soon as you describe Arabs uniquely in that region as Palestinians to the exclusion of Jews, you’ve wandered into antisemitic territory,” the rabbi said. “As soon as a person claims that it is not antisemitic to employ demonization and double standards against Israel, you are listening to an antisemite.”

Rabbi Avi Shafran, director of public affairs at Agudath Israel of America, also condemned the op-eds.

“Unfortunately, the Crimson essays simply reflect what is ‘out there,’ and, as such, some of them elide facts and only intensify animus against Israel and Jews,” Shafran told The Daily Signal in an emailed statement Tuesday.

“Referring to Israel’s security efforts to protect its citizens (Jewish and Arab alike) as ‘the subjugation of millions’; and labeling well-earned exposure of antisemitism a ‘weaponiz[ation] to silence criticism of Israel’ reveal a jaundiced view of Israel and a crass insensitivity to Jew-hatred,” the rabbi said in the email.

“No reasonable person conflates all criticism of Israel with antisemitism,” Shafran wrote. “But every reasonable person recognizes that much condemnation of Israel indeed has its roots not in a high-minded quest for peace but in a darker place.”

Shafran insisted that Jews and supporters of Israel, not pro-Palestine protesters, face the true intimidation.

The Anti-Defamation League has recorded a spike in antisemitic incidents across the U.S. since Oct. 7, noting that incidents of harassment, vandalism, and assault increased by 388% over the same period in 2022. ADL’s tracker found explicit or strong implicit support for Hamas and/or violence against Jews in Israel celebrated during at least 109 anti-Israel rallies since the terrorist attacks.

“The charge there is some widespread ‘bullying’ of ‘pro-Palestine organizers’ is risible,” Shafran said. “Intimidation lies, rather, in the hateful chants and angry rhetoric emanating from precisely those ‘pro-Palestinian’ advocates—against Israel and Jews.”

“Calling fear of antisemitism in our times a ‘McCarthyist tactice of manufacturing a … scare’ is, simply put, a grotesque denial of reality,” the rabbi added.

Sahar Tartak, a Jewish student at Yale University and editor-in-chief at The Yale Free Press, also condemned the five essays presented by The Harvard Crimson.

“Much of the series cherry-picked opinions from Jews specifically defending attacks on Jews,” Tartak, who has testified about antisemitism on campus, told The Daily Signal on Wednesday. “The idea that antisemitism is ‘weaponized’ by ‘powerful people’ to shut down discussion plays into a conspiracy theory that Jews are controlling our dialogue, when in truth many right-minded people are just against terror and support for the massacres of Oct. 7.”

“Anyone who feels oppressed when they are condemned for cheering on mass rape should reconsider their moral compass,” the Jewish student said.

“These are not just innocent criticisms of Israel (which are common from within the Jewish state), but an active campaign against Israel’s existence and the existence of Jews in the region, supportive of a barbaric terrorist organization and its brutalities,” Tartak said. “Just because a Jew does not defend his own right to exist in an article for the Crimson, that does not mean Jews have no right to exist.”

Tartak also noted that when the Crimson ran an op-ed about defining antisemitism, it chose a scholar who opposes the most mainstream definition of antisemitism, that of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

Derek J. Penslar, the William Lee Frost Professor of Jewish History and the director of the Harvard Center for Jewish Studies, is a member of the Nexus Task Force and a signatory to the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism. As such, he has ties to both the Nexus Document and the Jerusalem Declaration, which are competing definitions of antisemitism.

In his op-ed, Penslar acknowledges that mainstream Jewish organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, and the World Jewish Congress, have championed IHRA’s definition and criticized other definitions as being too lenient on antisemitism when it comes to harsh criticisms of Israel.

“Following the IHRA definition, calling Israel racist or subjecting it to criticism not directed toward any other democratic country is antisemitic,” Penslar writes. “The [other] definitions, however, leave more room for criticism of Israel, and in that sense they are more conducive to the essential, though difficult, conversations happening within the Harvard community.”

Writing for National Review, Tartak condemned the Nexus Document and its definition of antisemitism, saying that it “in effect condones antisemitism in the form of applying double standards to Israel.”

“The trouble is that those who think Israel has no right to exist as a nation rarely reject any other nation’s right to exist,” she wrote, condemning the Biden administration’s embrace of the Nexus Document.

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