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Leaving the Left Behind

By Tova A. Serkin

As my four years here draw to what seems like an absurdly abrupt end, I have been trying to sum up my Harvard experience into one pat expression that will satisfy family and friends alike. I did in fact hit on an appropriate one, but unfortunately, it only encourages more questions. Telling people that Harvard has made me more conservative and has left me disillusioned with academia necessitates further explanation.

It is not so much that I have changed or that my beliefs are any different, but rather that some liberal elements on this campus no longer uphold their stated goals. Over the last two years, as crisis unfolded in the Middle East, I began to realize that my affiliations had changed. It was a sad day for me, a proud Democrat from New York, when I had to admit that I agreed more with my Republican friends whom I had previously considered crazy right-wingers. Frankly, I have been dismayed by some of the “liberal” rhetoric on campus. I use the quotation marks because some forms of liberalism at Harvard have ceased to mean standing for equality, upholding human rights for all, or fighting against all forms of racism.

It is only in the midst of bloody conflict in the Middle East that I have come to see the hypocrisy that exists on this campus’ left. I have always been quick to criticize Israel for its treatment of Israeli Arabs and the Palestinian people, but over the last few years, I have realized that those critiques could not be made in isolation. In a rational understanding of the situation, one must realize that both Israelis and Palestinians are at fault, and both must make concessions.

Yet repeatedly there have been calls for Israel to leave the territories in exchange for nothing, not even the security necessary for its people to live normal lives. There have been numerous rallies on campus, editorials in The Crimson and speeches that condemn only Israel. Only by ignoring the facts and the history of the region could one blame the entire conflict on Israel, and yet that is precisely what many students and professors on the left have done. The lack of intellectual honesty about the situation disturbs me, but unfortunately no longer surprises me.

With this latest campaign calling for Harvard and MIT to divest from Israel, I feel isolated and alienated from supposedly “liberal” parts of the University. The people who have signed the petition use the left’s rhetoric and many of them are self-avowed liberals, including MIT Professor Noam Chomsky and Professor of Romance Languages and Literature Brad Epps. It is despicable that professors and House Masters have signed onto this petition. Israel is not perfect and has certainly made mistakes, but if anything, now it needs our support as it fights for security. Why single out and punish the one country in the region committed to democracy, equality for women and the protection of human life, both Israeli and Palestinian?

The people who drew up this petition and those who have signed it chose to ignore the terrible attacks that Palestinian militants have carried out against innocent civilians and the celebrations over terror attacks in some Palestinian neighborhoods. By only focusing on Israel’s actions, the petition ignores the context of the situation. Israel did not enter the West Bank and risk the lives of many young soldiers without reason. It was a measure of self-defense and did in fact allow Israel some respite from the terror campaign. Certainly Israel must protect civilian Palestinian lives, but to blame Israel for needing to defend itself is backwards.

Israel is being held to different standards than other countries. Anyone concerned about protecting human rights must acknowledge the terrible abuses perpetrated by Arab governments against their own citizens. The Arabs living within Israel have more freedom then anywhere else in the region. As a democracy, Israel is committed to protecting rights. The fight for human rights is an admirable one—it should be directed at those who truly aim to stifle freedom and democracy.

As the controversy surrounding the upcoming commencement speech by Zayed M. Yasin ’02 on jihad began to stir, many on campus were shocked that anyone would protest the topic. Those of us concerned that Yasin’s speech contained no explicit condemnation of violent jihad, and that Yasin himself has supported an organization that helps fund Hamas, have been told that we are anti-Islam for protesting. Yet I fail to see why it is racist to demand acknowledgement and condemnation of violent jihad after many of us lost family and friends due to a jihad against America.

I have come to an important realization over the last four years—individuals must stick to their ideals and beliefs, even when opposed by those who normally uphold admirable ideals. It is not enough to follow a group merely because it claims to fight for freedom or equality. Rather, one must constantly reevaluate whether that group does as it says. I do not choose to call myself a liberal at Harvard, but rather someone who ardently believes in the fight for human rights, freedom and equality. I am disheartened to say that many on our campus’ left do not stand for these ideals.

Tova A. Serkin ’02, an environmental science and public policy concentrator in Pforzheimer House, was an executive editor of the Crimson in 2001.

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