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Last week, Harvard Hillel and Harvard Chabad organized a vigil “to grieve together and to show support for Israel.” More than 1,000 members of the Harvard community, including the College dean and associate dean of students, attended. In the days after, snippets of speeches from the vigil were published in The Crimson and shared on its social media.
One speaker said, “These are the hardest days in the history of the Jewish people,” noting also rising antisemitism on campus. She also declared, “We have lived in exile too long. We will not be exiled again.”
I do not pretend to speak to what it is like to be Jewish right now. I believe and sympathize with the discomfort and fear expressed at the vigil about antisemitism, and I have mourned the loss of Jewish life over these past two weeks.
But statements like these are violent, violent lies.
At the vigil, speakers suggested that antisemitism would not stop them from speaking out in support of Israel. For example, one speaker said, “There is hate swirling around on campus… But our unity transcends that hate. It does not silence us. It does not intimidate us. It does not stop us from gathering here in public together, hundreds strong.” I am relieved to know that they feel that way. Anti-Zionist students do not.
In April 2022, The Crimson Editorial Board published a staff editorial in support of Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions, a Palestinian-led organization and movement in support of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, styled after the South African anti-apartheid strategy. In the days following, our editors became the targets of an intense doxxing campaign, receiving misogynistic, racist, and antisemitic letters and messages from around the world. Names of Editorial editors were placed on online watchlists, where many remain to this day.
And two weeks ago, after the Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee published its statement, Harvard was again the site of a bone-chilling attack on free speech. Trailed by local and national news, the conservative organization Accuracy in Media paraded students’ names and faces around Harvard Square. I watched as the truck broadcast the identities of two of my friends.
What troubles me about the first speaker’s comments at the vigil, the ones still ringing in my mind, is this reality, a campus where anti-Zionism puts your name and face on a moving wanted poster and support of Israel puts your name and face in the New York Times. This reality reflects the enormous disconnect between what is happening on the ground in Gaza and what is reported on in the media. So we hear that it is Zionism — supported by the commander in chief of the most powerful military on earth — that is under siege. That it is Israelis who are in danger of exile, not the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who have fled their homes, many of which no longer exist, in northern Gaza in the last two weeks.
The events of the Oct. 7 attack were tragic: More than 1,400 Israeli civilians were killed. There are no words to describe the pain so many are feeling. But when I hear statements like “these are the hardest days in the history of the Jewish people,” I am obliged to respond that they are not. History books are filled with antisemitism, from pogroms and ghettos to trains that were never meant to bring anyone back. These are the memories, the anguish, that hovered over the crowd at last Sunday’s vigil.
But comparisons to the Holocaust carry power which haunts our campus and threatens lives in Gaza. Our cultural conception of the Holocaust makes it necessarily unique: It is the unrepeatable, incomparable crime. We still speak of the banality of its evil, the inhumanity of its contempt for human life. If Oct. 7 was like the Holocaust, then what becomes of Gazans? Monsters, devils, things unworthy of moral regard; their deaths become, in Gabriel Winant’s words, “famously, publicly worthless and undeserving of commemoration.” Slowly, we inch closer to an ideology that groups together millions of people — children, mostly — and names them the public enemy, says that “it is an entire nation out there that is responsible” for the violence of Oct. 7.
Like this, any call for Palestinian statehood can be transmuted into a bloodthirsty growl, and the mere existence of Gaza, home to Hamas, those “human animals,” and the people supposedly responsible for their rise, becomes reason enough to fear the worst. Last Sunday, another speaker asked of Palestinian activists: “What are they calling for? Are they calling for the eradication of the State of Israel? Are they calling for the slaughter of the nine million Jews, Muslims, Christians, Bedouins, and Druze living in Israel? Are they calling for the killing of my family?” A quick jump from the specter of the Holocaust to the imagined threat of a second.
There is a state in the world right now with plans to turn another into a “city of tents.” It wields the death of its citizens as a weapon with which to kill others and with it has killed at least 3,000. There are no signs its carnage will end. Multiple international observers have sounded the alarm of genocide. On the ground, at night, families lie awake in prayer, and if the sun rises they pray again, grateful to have seen another day.
I only ask that we be honest. This state is Israel.
Correction: October 25, 2023
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the Editorial Board published a staff editorial in support of Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions last April. In fact, the staff editorial was published in April 2022.
Joel Sabando ’24, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a joint concentrator in Comparative Literature and Mathematics in Lowell House.
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