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Updated: November 10, 2023, at 1:33 p.m.
Harvard Chabad President Rabbi Hirschy Zarchi called on the University to de-recognize the Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee Wednesday afternoon after the group criticized him in a Tuesday night post on the social media platform X.
Zarchi, who founded Harvard Chabad, also serves as a Jewish Chaplain at the University. In a Wednesday email update to Chabad affiliates, Zarchi called for Harvard to disavow the PSC and said the University had “been taken hostage by its hateful bullies on campus.”
“Considering that there is ample publicly available evidence of the PSC and its members repeatedly breaking campus rules, not to mention supporting terrorism, I think it’s time for the Harvard Jewish community, and good people everywhere, to demand that, at the minimum, Harvard revoke the organizational recognition of the Harvard PSC,” he wrote in the email.
The Tuesday post by the PSC characterized a portion of a speech delivered by Zarchi last Friday as “anti-Palestinian racism.” Zarchi spoke at an installation in Harvard Yard assembled by two Jewish student organizations on campus, Harvard Hillel and Chabad, to pay tribute to those held captive by the Islamist militant group Hamas.
In the video clip of the speech, Zarchi condemned “animalistic” and “monstrous” behavior, though it was unclear whether he was referring exclusively to Hamas or also to individuals he viewed as justifying the group’s actions.
“When you reduce or hijack your mind to fulfill your impulses, to connive, and to be philosophical, to justify murder and torture — you’re not just an animal. You’re below an animal. You’re a monster,” Zarchi said.
The PSC’s post called on the University to establish a committee “to investigate anti-Palestinian racism” on campus.
“President Gay and Dean Khurana, we hold you liable for the comments made by university employees, and we demand accountability,” the statement reads.
University spokesperson Jason A. Newton declined to comment on the post. Harvard College spokesperson Jonathan Palumbo declined to comment on the remarks, citing a policy against commenting on personnel matters.
In a follow-up email Friday, Palumbo clarified that University chaplains are not Harvard employees.
University and College administrators have previously condemned hateful language and personal attacks. Last month, Harvard formed an advisory group to combat antisemitism on campus. In an interview with The Crimson last week, Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana reiterated his position.
“Antisemitism, Islamophobia, xenophobia, and discrimination of any type will not be tolerated,” he said.
Over the past month, the PSC has received national criticism for a controversial joint statement signed by more than 30 other student groups holding “the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence” after Hamas’ deadly Oct. 7 attack on Israel.
Since publication, at least 10 of the original co-signatory organizations have retracted their endorsements of the statement. The PSC later wrote that it “staunchly opposes violence against civilians.”
Harvard groups have not been the only campus organizations to receive widespread backlash. In his Wednesday email, Zarchi called on Harvard to follow in the steps of Brandeis University, which pulled funding and permits for activities from the campus chapter of National Students for Justice in Palestine.
Harvard President Claudine Gay appeared to disavow the PSC’s letter in a video address last month but said the University would not take action against the co-signatory organizations.
“We do not punish or sanction people for expressing such views, but that is a far cry from endorsing them,” she said.
In his Wednesday email to Chabad affiliates, Zarchi described PSC’s criticisms of his Friday speech as “lies and conspiracies,” highlighting safety concerns and urging members to demand action from the University.
Zarchi also demanded the removal of a proctor from their position due to their involvement in the Oct. 18 pro-Palestine protest at Harvard Business School, which has drawn criticism from prominent alumni after a confrontation between a Jewish student and PSC marshals went viral on X.
The student, whose private Instagram story was shared by Zarchi in the email, declined to comment on the criticism.
The PSC’s post Tuesday called Zarchi “an active part of the doxxing problem,” making reference to instances of doxxing attacks against some students allegedly affiliated with organizations that signed onto the PSC statement.
Last month, the College established a task force out of the Dean of Students Office to support doxxed students.
In a follow-up statement to The Crimson, Zarchi declined to provide further comment on the PSC’s post.
“I will not dignify utter slander with a response,” he wrote in an emailed statement.
The same email also contained a statement attributed to the student leadership of Harvard Chabad, which labeled the PSC “an antisemitic group.”
“The PSC’s slander of the spiritual leader of Harvard’s Jewish community, is another expression of their hate against the Jewish people,” the statement reads. “If the University is serious about ensuring that antisemitism has no place at Harvard, they should ban the PSC from our campus.”
A spokesperson for the PSC, who The Crimson granted anonymity due to safety concerns, wrote that the organization is “disappointed” that Zarchi “has failed to address, clarify, or retract” what it views as Zarchi’s comparison between pro-Palestinian students and those “below animals.”
“PSC condemns bigotry in all forms including antisemitism and racism and understands these forms of discrimination to be interconnected,” the spokesperson wrote. “Harvard must resist nation-wide efforts to silence those who speak up for Palestine, and continue to affirm its students’ right to free speech.”
Clarification: November 9, 2023
This article has been updated to clarify ambiguity around Zarchi’s speech. While his quote referenced Hamas, it was unclear whether he was also extending his comments to individuals he viewed as justifying the group’s actions.
—Staff writer J. Sellers Hill can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on X @SellersHill.
—Staff writer Joyce E. Kim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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