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Harvard President Gay Forms Advisory Group to Combat Antisemitism on Campus

University President Claudine Gay announced at a Harvard Hillel Shabbat dinner on Friday that top school officials will work with a new advisory group to oppose antisemitism on campus.
University President Claudine Gay announced at a Harvard Hillel Shabbat dinner on Friday that top school officials will work with a new advisory group to oppose antisemitism on campus. By Truong L. Nguyen
By Miles J. Herszenhorn and Claire Yuan, Crimson Staff Writers

Updated: October 30, 2023, at 3:09 p.m.

After Harvard faced fierce criticism over its response to the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, top administrators will work with a newly established advisory group to combat antisemitism on campus, University President Claudine Gay announced on Friday.

Gay revealed the formation of the advisory group in a speech about antisemitism at a Harvard Hillel Shabbat dinner held over Family Weekend for the freshman and junior classes. The event was attended by more than 200 people, including many Jewish undergraduates and their family members.

“Antisemitism has a very long and shameful history at Harvard,” Gay said, according to a transcript of her remarks published online. “For years, this University has done too little to confront its continuing presence. No longer.”

The advisory group assembled by Gay contains eight initial members: Geraldine Acuña-Sunshine ’92, vice chair of the Harvard Board of Overseers; Thomas Dunne, the College’s dean of students; Kevin J. Madigan, a Harvard Divinity School professor and Eliot House faculty dean; Martha L. Minow, a University Professor and former Harvard Law School dean; Dara Horn ’99, a novelist and former visiting lecturer of Jewish Studies at Harvard; Eric M. Nelson ’99, a professor of Government; Nim Ravid ’25, an undergraduate student; and David Wolpe, a visiting scholar at HDS.

Harvard was thrust into the national spotlight days after the Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee published a statement that said they “hold the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence” after Hamas’ deadly Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

The statement, which was originally co-signed by 33 other Harvard student groups, faced swift condemnation by fellow students, prominent Harvard professors, high-profile donors, and members of Congress. Many of the statement’s most vocal critics — including former Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers — also slammed Gay’s administration for its slow response to the fighting in Israel even as the student groups’ statement made global headlines.

In addition to Gay, several other senior University officials — including Harvard Provost Alan M. Garber ’76, Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana, and Acuña-Sunshine — attended the Shabbat dinner as Harvard works to rehabilitate its relationship with Jewish affiliates.

In her remarks on Friday, Gay said she assembled the group of advisers to “begin the vital work of eradicating antisemitism from our community.”

“In the weeks ahead, these advisers will work with me, Provost Garber, and the school deans to frame an agenda and strategy for combating antisemitism at Harvard,” Gay added. “They will help us to think expansively and concretely about all the ways that antisemitism shows up on our campus and in our campus culture.”

Gay also declared that antisemitism conflicted with Harvard’s values.

“Harvard’s mission and legacy is the pursuit and dissemination of truth,” she said. “And the core of antisemitism is a lie — specifically, the denial of Jewish identity and experience.”

“This lie has taken many forms, from Holocaust denial to the blood libel to conspiracy theories to the denial of the Jewish peoples’ historical ties to the land of Israel,” Gay added.

Harvard Hillel President Jacob M. Miller ’25, a Crimson Editorial editor, applauded Gay’s remarks in a statement on Sunday.

“President Gay understands that antisemitism remains a reality at Harvard,” Miller wrote. “Over the coming months, we appreciate the opportunity to work in partnership with President Gay, her advisors, and our peers on campus to condemn and confront antisemitism everywhere it exists.”

But some Jewish Harvard affiliates criticized Gay’s speech for seeming to conflate antisemitism and anti-Zionism.

Shir Lovett-Graff, a spokesperson for Harvard Jews for Liberation, wrote in a statement that “the disproportionate focus on antisemitism on college campuses continues to distract from the devastating siege on Gaza.”

“We know that a responsible, decolonial approach to fighting antisemitism includes the clarification that antisemitism is real, but antisemitism is not anti-Zionism,” Lovett-Graff added.

Harvard spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain declined to comment on Harvard Jews for Liberation’s criticisms of Gay’s remarks.

Lovett-Graff also wrote in the statement that Gay “has not reached out to nor engaged with any members of Jews for Liberation.”

“We hope President Gay and the taskforce will recognize the internal diversity of the Jewish community, and seek voices from beyond Harvard Hillel, including those of anti-Zionist Jewish students,” they added.

​​—Staff writer Miles J. Herszenhorn can be reached at Follow him on X @mherszenhorn or on Threads @mileshersz.

—Staff writer Claire Yuan can be reached at Follow her on X @claireyuan33.

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