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The Disturbing Denial of Jewish Grief

On Oct. 15, more than 1,000 people gathered by the steps of Widener Library for a vigil to stand in solidarity with Israel and mourn the civilian deaths of the Oct. 7 attack by the Islamist militant group Hamas.
On Oct. 15, more than 1,000 people gathered by the steps of Widener Library for a vigil to stand in solidarity with Israel and mourn the civilian deaths of the Oct. 7 attack by the Islamist militant group Hamas. By Julian J. Giordano
By Eric I. Kalimi and Isaac Mansell, Crimson Opinion Writers
Eric I. Kalimi ’26 is an Economics concentrator in Adams House. Isaac Mansell ’26, a Crimson Editorial Editor, is a Statistics concentrator in Kirkland House.

This op-ed is part of a special opinion package, “Antisemitism at Harvard, According to Seven Jewish Affiliates.” View the full package here.

When I, Eric, got home for winter break, my grandfather embraced me with teary eyes and shaky arms. “I’m happy you made it back alright given all of the antisemitism over there,” he said.

I was shocked by his words. When my grandfather was growing up in Iran, he was beaten in the street for being Jewish. I assumed the physical antisemitism he experienced during his youth would have served to reduce his fears around news of antisemitism at Harvard. Instead, his fears reached the point of tears. I hugged him tight and assured him that he did not need to worry about physical threats against me as a Jewish student at Harvard.

I was telling my grandfather the truth. I — and Isaac — believe physical harassment has not been the primary manifestation of contemporary antisemitism on college campuses: This is not to say that physical attacks on Jewish students never happen, nor is it meant to diminish the rising physical manifestations of broader extremism.

At Harvard, a Jewish first-year student told us he was aggressively questioned for wearing a kippah and asked if he did so out of support for Israel. Similarly, a graduate student was followed and harassed for wearing a keffiyeh.

Even though we feel largely physically safe, we have noticed a disturbing, reductionist narrative at Harvard and beyond, which unilaterally invalidates the Jewish experience. We have witnessed the denial of genuine instances of antisemitism, paired with the subsequent invalidation of Jewish reactions and even emotions. This silencing is something that no group, least of all a historically marginalized group, should have to face.

From the moment the world learned of the carnage of Oct. 7 attacks, there has been a deluge of disinformation downplaying the horror of the day. False coverage of the day has fueled skepticism and emboldened voices downplaying the horror of Hamas’ brutality. Rape denial has been especially rampant, despite multiple news outlets reporting evidence that sexual assault indeed occurred that day.

We have watched the erasure of the violence of Oct. 7 and tacit suppression of Jewish grief unfold firsthand. One of our peers shared an Instagram post that claims Israel lied about the killing of “Israeli settler babies” and asserts that witnesses’ claims of rape were “unsubstantiated.”

While we understand that we can’t force everyone to feel sympathy, blatant attempts to deny the experiences of those suffering should have no place on this campus. Diminishing the unquestionable evil of Oct. 7 gives way to tacit defense of Hamas’ actions and, in turn, serves no one but Hamas and nothing but terror. It was deeply disappointing to see that several students felt compelled to do exactly this on social media and in dialogue.

Such dehumanization often affects Palestinians as well. In the national discourse, we have witnessed many decry the entire population of Gaza as Hamas terrorists, fail to express empathy for suffering civilians, and argue that Palestinians somehow “had it coming” for electing Hamas more than 15 years ago. Just as such rhetoric constitutes anti-Palestinian racism, the dehumanization of Israelis is antisemitic.

Additionally, the very format of the package of op-eds to which this article belongs begs our examination. I, Isaac, am a proud member of the Editorial Board. When it comes to the Board’s track record of tackling bigotry, their first reaction tends to be exactly that – tackling said bigotry.

Regarding antisemitism, their response has deviated significantly from the norm. They have decided to gather a wide range of perspectives from various corners of the Jewish community, taking a far more skeptical approach than we believe the issue merits. We cannot find a similar treatment — with multiple authors dissecting exactly what constitutes hate — for any other form of hate in The Crimson in recent history, indicating that the conversation surrounding antisemitism has become much more equivocal than it ought to be.

Moreover, there has been a broader, equally disturbing dialogue attempting to dictate the bounds of Jewish feelings. Whenever University President Claudine Gay takes a step to reckon with antisemitism on campus, students turn to social media to deny the presence of said antisemitism.

Similarly, when President Gay condemned the chant “from the river to the sea” — a phrase many Jewish students find hurtful due to its historical connotations — students were quick to push back without taking seriously that a large contingent of the student body is hurt by that specific choice of language. Additionally, consider those who defended her congressional testimony that repeatedly failed to categorize calls for genocide against Jews as a violation of Harvard’s code of conduct on bullying and harrassment.

Social media posts dismissing Jewish students’ concerns with controversial chants have left Jewish students who are made uncomfortable by the phrase feeling hysterical. Regardless of the intention behind the chants, Jewish students have the right to feel uncomfortable, but our peers deny this right when they attempt to redefine what we are allowed to feel.

The consistent and strident pushback against action that could help Jewish students coupled with the defense of actions that could hurt us carries the implicit accusation that our concerns are illegitimate and our fears are unfounded.

Efforts to restrict the grief of Jewish students have, again, reached the pages of this very publication. In a Crimson op-ed titled “In Defense of the Truth,” the author writes “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.” Such a claim is absolutely unacceptable, as it implies that it is wrong for Jews to express our emotions in the wake of the largest massacre of our people in recent history. On Oct. 7, over 1,000 Jews were murdered in a land meant to be a safe haven for them, shattering the collective sense of Israeli and Jewish security in just a day.

We are not blind to the fact that charges of antisemitism have been politicized and weaponized to silence criticism of Israel — including silencing calls for a ceasefire.

However, it has been truly disheartening to see that amidst the heightened tensions on our own campus, some of our peers have neglected to extend to Jewish and Israeli students the compassion, understanding, and humanity that we all deserve.

Eric I. Kalimi ’26 is an Economics concentrator in Adams House. Isaac Mansell ’26, a Crimson Editorial Editor, is a Statistics concentrator in Kirkland House.

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