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An outspoken member of Harvard Students for Israel went undercover in what he says was a quest to gauge anti-Semitism in a campus anti-war group.
Members of the Harvard Initiative for Peace and Justice (HIPJ) discovered last week that mysterious anti-Semitic posts on the group’s web log were written by Eric R. Trager ’05, who posted them under an assumed name.
Trager said yesterday that he was responsible for the posts in question, but said they were part of his larger effort to monitor anti-Semitism on campus.
Trager, who is secretary of Harvard Students for Israel (HSI), had previously accused HIPJ of being too tolerant of anti-Semitic sentiments expressed over its e-mail lists.
In a November interview, Trager said that anti-Semitic e-mails sent last spring over the now-defunct HIPJ-Open list “came without any rebuke or organizational distancing from HIPJ.”
To determine whether HIPJ would still tolerate anti-Semitism in its midst, Trager said he created the persona of Fabian Cooper, who identified himself as a Boston University graduate student who had taken a year off from his studies to work as a substitute teacher and get involved with local Marxist groups.
Trager said the language he used in the posts was modeled after messages previously sent over HIPJ lists.
One post signed by Cooper referred to Israel as the “AshkeNAZI state,” playing off the Hebrew name for Jews of Eastern European descent, and called suicide bombers “Palestinian freedom fighters.”
A second post attributed to Cooper, written after Saddam Hussein’s capture, claimed that “only a great leader like Saddam Hussein would have had the guts to hit the Zionist imperial colonists with the scud missiles necessary to set the Zionist entity on edge.”
According to HIPJ member Amee Chew ’04, the group removed both posts from its website within minutes of their appearance.
Trager, a government concentrator in Kirkland House, said HIPJ’s quick response to the Cooper posts signaled a positive trend in relations between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian activists on campus.
“I was very pleased that they did erase it,” Trager said. “It indicates the progress that HSI and HIPJ have made in discussions. HIPJ is making an apparent effort to fight anti-Semitism on campus.”
But HSI President Joshua Suskewicz ’05 said the incident did not involve the group.
“This has nothing to do with HSI,” he said.
Trager said he hopes the Fabian Cooper incident “will throw a little bit of humor” into talks between HIPJ and HSI.
“This was not intended to be some kind of mastermind underhanded tactic of throwing HIPJ into chaos,” Trager said.
HIPJ member Suvrat Raju, a doctoral candidate in physics, said he found the incident humorous.
“I was amused, not angry, when I discovered Fabian Cooper’s identity,” he wrote in an e-mail. “He didn’t do us any harm—it was just funny.”
Raju said he was “personally satisfied” with an e-mail apology from Trager.
“Our disagreements with HSI may remain, but we can definitely be polite and civil to each other,” he said.
Others in the group, however, said they were not amused by Trager’s antics.
Chew said she was “shocked that [Trager] would stoop to this” and termed his posts “reckless.”
“I don’t think that Harvard should be a place where people practice to become FBI or CIA agents,” said HIPJ member Daniel DiMaggio ’04. “I think that this type of behavior deserves the utmost censure on the part of the student body and all members of the Harvard community.”
“Members of [HSI] and HIPJ have been working behind the scenes to promote a more positive dialogue on campus,” Suskewicz said. “I hope that this doesn’t interfere in any way.”
—Staff writer Daniel J. Hemel can be reached at email@example.com.
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