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In a statement on Nov. 9 broadcasting the formation of an antisemitism advisory group, University President Claudine Gay explained that she is committed to “protecting all members of our community from harassment and marginalization.”
As Jewish students at Harvard, we recognize that our safety and protection do not exist in a vacuum. It cannot come at the expense of Palestinian wellbeing and freedom, neither here nor in Gaza.
An immediate ceasefire, the release of all hostages, and an end to what multiple experts have termed an ongoing genocide in Gaza are just first steps in building a safe and livable future for all people. As Rabbi Professor Shaul Magid writes, “in the intricate web that is the state of Israel, or Palestine, the well-being of one is dependent on the well-being of the other.”
We unequivocally condemn Hamas’ attacks on Oct. 7. We are outraged by the mass murder committed on that day and every day since.
However, in the wake of this violence, we are frustrated by the weaponization of Jewish grief to silence Palestinian and anti-Zionist voices, as well as to justify continued violence in Gaza and the West Bank.
We have been so busy responding to this exploitation of grief — both at Harvard and globally — that we have not had time to contend with the magnitude of loss that we and our communities are grappling with.
President Gay said in her speech announcing the creation of the advisory group that “the core of antisemitism is a lie — specifically the denial of Jewish identity and experience.”
We agree. Our University has a responsibility to make clear that anti-Zionism is not antisemitism and that the conflation of the two makes it more difficult to identify and stand against real antisemitism. We call on President Gay and the advisory group to recognize the diversity of Jewish identities at Harvard and include anti-Zionist Jews in their work.
As American Jewish activists, we are asked to make this distinction because it is often outright rejected when voiced by our Palestinian and peers of color.
Charges of antisemitism must not be used to silence University affiliates expressing legitimate political criticism. This idea was echoed in a statement released this week, with more than 100 Harvard faculty signatories arguing that “it cannot be ruled as ipso facto antisemitic to question the actions of this particular ethno-nationalist government.”
Equating anti-Zionism with antisemitism also perpetuates violence against movements for liberation led by Palestinians and people of color. We echo the demands of the Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee in insisting that the University protect free speech for all students and create an “investigative committee on anti-Palestinian racism and the suppression of pro-Palestine voices.” This body should work in tandem with the antisemitism advisory group to address the shared root causes of antisemitism, racism, and Islamophobia: white supremacy and Christian hegemony.
When we say “from the river to the sea,” we call for the freedom of all Palestinians from these oppressive systems and an end to the ongoing violence of the occupation. The focus on antisemitism on college campuses is a distraction from the horrors in Gaza.
More than 11,000 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed since Oct. 7, including at least 4,609 children, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry. That’s a death toll of 1 out of every 200 Gazans. Reports from the United Nations indicate that about 1.5 million Palestinians have been displaced — some for the second time in their lifetimes. Last month, Amnesty International documented entire families in Gaza wiped out by Israeli airstrikes.
Two weeks ago, the Israeli military bombed the Jabalia refugee camp at least six times in one day, killing or injuring at least 195 people. This week, the World Health Organization reported that Al-Shifa hospital ceased functioning due to days without electricity and water, further limiting access to healthcare. While these events unfold in Gaza, settlers in the West Bank are forcing Palestinians from their homes and lands.
Our attention is there.
In her remarks announcing the antisemitism advisory group, President Gay commented on Lech Lecha, the Torah portion in which God tells Abraham that he will “be a blessing.” President Gay saw this as a responsibility “to bring light, to each other and to the world,” and shared that this image resonated deeply with her.
It does with us, too. Our responsibility to be a blessing means being in solidarity with all people facing oppression. We are proud to stand with Palestinians calling for their freedom and recognize that solidarity across religious, ethnic, and geographic lines is our only path forward.
As members of Jews for Liberation at Harvard, we are creating the liberatory Jewish future we want to live in. We urge Harvard leadership to fulfill their promise to “be a force for something different and better” and join us in our intersectional movement for justice.
Shir Lovett-Graff is a third-year Master of Theological Studies student at Harvard Divinity School. Francesca Rubinson is a third-year Master of Divinity student at Harvard Divinity School. Miriam Silverman Israel is a second-year Master of Theological Studies student at Harvard Divinity School. They are members of Jews for Liberation. Additional contributors to the op-ed can be found here.
UPDATED: November 15, 2023 at 1:09 p.m. to link a list of additional op-ed contributors.
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