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Dear President Gay, Don’t Forget About Us

A billboard truck drove through the streets surrounding Harvard's campus in October, digitally displaying the names and faces of students allegedly affiliated with student groups that signed onto a controversial statement on Hamas' attack on Israel.
A billboard truck drove through the streets surrounding Harvard's campus in October, digitally displaying the names and faces of students allegedly affiliated with student groups that signed onto a controversial statement on Hamas' attack on Israel. By Julian J. Giordano
By Mahmoud M. Al-Thabata, Crimson Opinion Writer
Mahmoud M. Al-Thabata ’27, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Holworthy Hall.

Today, University President Claudine Gay is testifying in front of Congress about antisemitism on college campuses.

As she gives her remarks, President Gay must not forget the ongoing climate of fear and intimidation facing Harvard’s Muslim, Arab, and Palestinian communities since the outbreak of war and what many scholars and lawyers have called a genocide in Gaza.

On Nov. 1, hedge fund billionaire Bill A. Ackman ’88 spoke at the Jewish Leaders Forum. The event was organized by Harvard Chabad and took place following his calls for the mass doxxing of pro-Palestinian students whose organizations co-signed a statement in response to the Oct. 7 attacks.

Ackman’s invitation to campus was only one of the many incidents of Harvard’s neglect of students’ safety concerns.

In the same week that Ackman and other prominent figures lambasted pro-Palestinian students on social media, I saw the faces and names of my peers plastered on a truck driving around campus, each accompanied by the title of “Harvard’s Leading Antisemites.” The truck was funded by Accuracy in Media, a conservative advocacy group. According to an interview with two doxxed students, the majority of those individuals were Black and brown.

It took Harvard almost two weeks just to privately email affected students about a task force for doxxed students. By that point, students had faced death threats and found their personal information circulated online. Soon after, Accuracy in Media sent the truck to some of the students’ hometowns. Harvard’s failure to treat this incident with the urgency it deserved endangered pro-Palestinian students and promoted prejudice on campus.

A significant increase in antisemitic hate crimes in the United States has accompanied these targeted attacks on pro-Palestinian students. In response to these heinous attacks on the Jewish community, Harvard created an antisemitism advisory group.

The administration’s move is commendable and warranted — and that same institutional support should also be extended to Muslims and Arabs on campus whose communities have faced a similar upsurge in Islamophobic, anti-Arab, and anti-Palestinian racism: The Council on American-Islamic Relations documented an increase in Islamophobic incidents and hate crimes in the U.S. of more than 180 percent between Oct. 7 and Oct. 24. The director of research and advocacy of that organization noted that this surging hate has been born out of rhetoric particularly targeting Palestinian communities.

Why is Harvard refusing to extend the same valuable institutional resource it provides to Jewish students to their Arab and Muslim peers? The administration’s inadequate response tells me that I, as a Palestinian, do not meet the standards for safety or support.

The lack of action taken by our university has potentially dangerous implications in light of recent anti-Arab and Islamophobic attacks on other college campuses.

At Stanford University, campus police are investigating allegations that a student wearing a shirt with the Syrian city of Damascus written in Arabic on it was struck by a car, the driver of which yelled, “Fuck you people.” At George Washington University, students reported instances of strangers ripping hijabs from the heads of Muslim students. And at Yale University, a message declaring “Death to Palestine” was found written on a whiteboard inside of a student dorm building.

On Nov. 25, this bigotry turned into bullets.

That day, three Palestinian college students in Vermont were shot while speaking Arabic and wearing keffiyehs, traditional Palestinian scarves. That attack on Hisham Awartani, a student at Brown University; Kinnan Abdalhamid, a student at Haverford University; and Tahseen Ali Ahmed, a student at Trinity University, should remind the nation of the consequences of ignoring anti-Palestinian racism.

These racist attacks are not isolated incidents. As Hisham, who was left paralyzed from the chest down by the assault, bravely noted in a statement, he is “but one casualty in this much wider conflict” against Palestinians globally, whether in the United States or in Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Harvard’s failure to adequately respond to the scale of this crisis leaves its Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim students to wonder, “Are we next?”

Our university, like many of its peers, has already failed these members of our community by not acting faster. Only by leading the way with lasting action can Harvard win back our trust and set a standard for universities nationwide.

This is what President Gay must have in mind when she testifies before Congress today. But her words in front of the government are not enough.

Whether by divesting its nearly $200 million in investments tied to Israeli settlements in Palestine; creating an advisory committee to tackle Islamophobia, anti-Arab, and anti-Palestinian racism; reinstating an evicted pro-Palestinian proctor; or extending an invitation to Palestinian students to meet with President Claudine Gay, Harvard must do more to protect us on our own campus.

These acts are not just for me, but for Hisham and other Palestinians on college campuses who are deeply worried for their safety. For the people of Gaza gasping for help and calling for a permanent ceasefire. For every member of the Harvard community in need of assurance that Islamophobia, anti-Arab sentiment, and all forms of hate have no place on this campus. For humanity.

Mahmoud M. Al-Thabata ’27, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Holworthy Hall.

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