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Anonymous Posters, Vandalism Spur Tensions on Harvard’s Campus

Harvard's campus has seen anonymous antisemitic and anti-Palestinian posters and a string of poster vandalisms.
Harvard's campus has seen anonymous antisemitic and anti-Palestinian posters and a string of poster vandalisms. By Marina Qu
By Michelle N. Amponsah and Joyce E. Kim, Crimson Staff Writers

The appearance of antisemitic and anti-Palestinian posters on Harvard’s campus and a string of poster vandalisms have caused controversy on a campus already divided since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

The posters, which do not appear to be affiliated with any organization and often contain incendiary messages, are part of a series of anonymous acts that have heightened tensions on campus over the past four months.

The latest anonymous poster to appear on campus targeted a Palestinian Harvard graduate student. The poster was displayed in Harvard Yard earlier this week and identified the student by name.

“Palestinian in the US?” the poster stated. “Not condemning Hamas means you are Hamas.”

The student named in the poster declined to comment for this article.

Harvard spokesperson Jason A. Newton wrote in an email Tuesday that the University does “not condone or ignore threats or acts of harassment or violence.”

Per long-standing University protocol, all posters are removed from Harvard Yard posting areas every Monday and Thursday.

In late January, posters of Israeli hostages hung around campus were defaced with antisemitic messages such as “Israel did 9/11.” It is unclear whether the people who vandalized the posters around Harvard Yard — which is generally accessible to the public — are Harvard affiliates.

Harvard Hillel President Nathan B. Gershengorn ’26 wrote in a Tuesday statement that members of Hillel were “disturbed” by the vandalizations of posters in January.

“To be honest, it doesn’t really matter who did it,” Gershengorn wrote. “The important thing to us is that it shows the Jewish community that Harvard campus has become a place where that kind of blatantly antisemitic rhetoric and stereotypes are tolerated.”

Newton wrote that “University strongly condemns the senseless and horrific vandalization on Harvard’s campus of posters displaying the faces of Israeli hostages.”

“Harvard University Police Department is investigating this incident,” Newton added.

After Harvard Divinity School student Shabbos “Alexander” Kestenbaum denounced the defacing of posters in a Jan. 21 post on X, he received an email from a Harvard employee challenging him to a debate on Israel’s role in 9/11.

“I invite you to debate me today at the Cambridge Street overpass 12-1, don’t miss it!” Gustavo “Gus” Espada ’96, an active University employee at the time, wrote in a Jan. 25 email to Kestenbaum.

“If you don’t show up I will use a puppet or potted plant to represent you!” he added.

Kestenbaum, who is one of six Jewish students suing Harvard for its alleged failure to address antisemitism on campus, said in an interview with The Crimson that he reported the incident to Harvard’s Office for Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging.

Espada posted a TikTok video later that day speaking in Spanish and waving a toy machete. The video includes a screenshot of Kestenbaum’s post on X.

“I, of course, was fearing for my safety,” Kestenbaum said. “And again, what made it particularly upsetting and frustrating was the fact that Harvard did not respond to any of my calls, emails, or pleas for protection.”

Kestenbaum also said that he reported the incident to both HUPD and the Cambridge Police Department, and was advised to file a restraining order against Espada in city court.

“I’m a student, I want to learn, I want to get an education,” Kestenbaum said. “That’s not something I’m going to do and waste my time at.”

“But I would expect and hope that Harvard would have a minimal amount of protection pertaining to Jewish students and — at minimum — discipline or fire or say something about one of their own employees taunting a student with a machete,” he added.

Espada remains listed as the financial and systems coordinator for Harvard’s Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, according to the department’s website.

Espada could not be reached for a request for comment on Tuesday.

—Staff writer Michelle N. Amponsah can be reached at michelle.amponsah@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X at @mnamponsah.

—Staff writer Joyce E. Kim can be reached at joyce.kim@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X at @joycekim324.

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