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This op-ed is part of a special opinion package, “Antisemitism at Harvard, According to Seven Jewish Affiliates.” View the full package here.
As bombs fall on Gaza, antisemitism has been a primary focus of college administrations, global media, and even the U.S. Congress.
University President Claudine Gay formed an antisemitism advisory group, personally addressed members of Harvard Hillel and Harvard Chabad, and even testified before a House committee on campus antisemitism alongside other university leaders. Their testimony made international headlines, leading to the resignation of the University of Pennsylvania’s president and widespread calls for the removal of the others.
As Jewish Harvard students, we have been thrust into the national spotlight. We question what exactly it illuminates and the intentions of those who shine it.
Characterizations of the Jewish community and external efforts to ensure our safety have been made blindly, neglecting the broad diversity of Jewish perspectives. As Jews critical of Israel, our views have been ignored — and our very existence has gone unacknowledged — by the same institutions that claim to protect us. As far as we know, Gay has shown no interest in meeting with anti-Zionist, non-Zionist, or Zionist-questioning Jewish students despite our continuous requests that she do so, including our 24-hour occupation of University Hall.
After her apparent failure to engage with an entire sector of Harvard’s Jewish population, Gay then appeared before Congress to testify about her ostensible commitment to protecting Jewish students.
We do not deny the threat of antisemitism which purportedly prompted this hearing. In fact, we are hyper-aware of antisemitism’s evils. Our ancestors fled extermination in Europe and their experiences are anything but unique. To be Jewish is to inherit the generational trauma of constant persecution. Today, this trauma is reinforced: There has been a nationwide rise in antisemitic crimes following the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks.
Yet discussions about fighting antisemitism are neither honest nor effective as long as they conflate criticism of the Israeli state with such hate. Just as we fear rising antisemitism, we fear how claims of antisemitism have been weaponized to excuse other forms of bigotry.
Over the past few months, we have seen our pro-Palestinian peers and friends ruthlessly silenced, doxxed, and harassed. These attacks have largely targeted Palestinian, Arab, Muslim, and Black students, and they have been shamefully justified under the guise of combating antisemitism.
Yet while antisemitism has received an abundance of media coverage, government inquiry, and administrative response, anti-Palestinian hate, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and racism have only seen a fraction of that attention.
Insidiously, some calls for retaliation against nonviolent activists have come from within the Jewish community. Harvard’s leading Jewish organizations have pushed for further policing of protest on campus, and certain University alumni have leveraged their power to endorse doxxing and encourage companies to deny students professional opportunities.
The twisting of calls for Jewish safety — at the expense of other marginalized groups’ speech and security — mirrors the ongoing destruction abroad.
The U.S. and Israeli governments continue to justify their collective punishment of the people of Gaza with the stated goals of Jewish and Israeli protection. In the process, over 20,000 people have been killed, according to Gazan health officials. Eighty five percent of the population has been displaced and more than one in four Gazans are starving, according to the U.N.
Thus, while discourse about antisemitism and speech on college campuses is vital, our conversations cannot distract from Gaza, where experts warn of genocide.
Ending the present war on Gaza is only the first step. To bring an end to the longer violence of occupation, Palestinian liberation must come next.
We understand that to many, such a concept — reflected through the phrase “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” — can, at best, seem ambiguous and, at worst, sound like a call for the violent elimination of Jews. For many Jews, the state of Israel represents the actualization of a dream too long deferred and the ultimate answer to centuries of Jewish expulsion and suffering.
Indeed, this is how we were taught to conceptualize the state of Israel in our respective Hebrew schools, families, and wider Jewish communities. Our Jewish education left us to believe that Palestinian and Jewish freedom were somehow mutually exclusive, and that Jewish safety was predicated on the existence of the Israeli state and its quotidian militarization of Palestinian existence.
In truth, Jewish safety — in Israel and the diaspora — is inextricably intertwined with Palestinian liberation. Jewish safety everywhere — including at Harvard — is at risk as long as Israel relies on the subjugation of millions to ensure such “safety.” The Jews living in the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea will never be truly free until Palestinians are also free to exist in and move throughout this entire region as equals.
We hold fast to this vision of peace not in spite of, but precisely because of our Jewish identities, which we cherish. We are guided by the concept of tzedek — justice — and a rich tradition of Jewish protest and dissent. Most of all, we are guided by our own history of oppression: We cannot allow centuries of trauma to trap our people in eternal panic, grant the state of Israel total impunity, and sow agony for still more generations of Palestinians.
Violet T. M. Barron ’26, an Associate Editorial Editor, is a Social Studies concentrator in Adams House. Charlotte P. Ritz-Jack ’25, a News Desk Editor, is a Social Studies concentrator in Pforzheimer House. They are organizers with Harvard Jews for Palestine.
Crimson policy precludes an editor from participating in the reporting or editing of articles about a topic they have opined on.
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