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Harvard Student Discusses Antisemitism on College Campuses at Congressional Roundtable

House Committee on Education and the Workforce Chairwoman Rep. Virginia A. Foxx (R-N.C.) speaks at the December, 2023 congressional hearing. Harvard Divinity School student Shabbos "Alexander" Kestenbaum attended a roundtable discussion hosted by the committee.
House Committee on Education and the Workforce Chairwoman Rep. Virginia A. Foxx (R-N.C.) speaks at the December, 2023 congressional hearing. Harvard Divinity School student Shabbos "Alexander" Kestenbaum attended a roundtable discussion hosted by the committee. By Miles J. Herszenhorn
By Michelle N. Amponsah and Joyce E. Kim, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard Divinity School student Shabbos “Alexander” Kestenbaum called Congress the “last hope” for Jewish students at Harvard during a roundtable discussion about antisemitism on university campuses hosted by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on Thursday.

The roundtable, which featured Jewish students from nine universities, came as the committee has sought to pressure elite colleges and universities to do more to combat antisemitism on their campuses.

Kestenbaum slammed Harvard efforts to tackle antisemitism, saying that a past advisory group on combating antisemitism was “remarkably useless.”

The advisory group was created by former President Claudine Gay, who resigned less than one month after she testified before the committee in early December. Days after the hearing, the committee launched an investigation into Harvard over allegations of antisemitism on campus.

As part of the investigation, the committee issued subpoenas on Feb. 16 to interim Harvard President Alan M. Garber ’76, Harvard Corporation Senior Fellow Penny S. Pritzker ’81, and Harvard Management Company CEO N.P. “Narv” Narvekar.

Harvard spokesperson Jason A. Newton denounced “antisemitism in any form” and wrote that the wellbeing of students was the University’s “top priority” in an emailed statement Thursday.

Kestenbaum also criticized the more recent presidential task force on antisemitism established by Garber. He directed most of his ire at the task force’s co-chair, History professor Derek J. Penslar, who faced fierce criticism upon his appointment for calling antisemitism at Harvard “exaggerated.”

He also referenced Harvard Business School professor Raffaella Sadun’s resignation as the task force’s other co-chair on Sunday over concerns the University would not implement its recommendations.

“When I say that Congress is our last hope, it’s because Harvard has refused to take any responsibility, any accountability, and to help Jewish students,” he said.

Kestenbaum encouraged the committee to “subpoena, subpoena, subpoena.”

“You would be horrified if you see what’s going on behind the scenes,” he said.

In her opening remarks, Committee Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) applauded the students for speaking out and said the roundtable was “not about policing speech or opinions, even if disagreeable or offensive.”

“It is about protecting Jewish students from the harassment, threats, intimidation, and assaults plaguing their campuses — as universities are obligated to under Title VI but have repeatedly failed to do,” Foxx said. “That failure is unacceptable.”

Kestenbaum described his time at Harvard as “two years of personal experiences with a racial ideology championed by Harvard that views Jews as an annoyance at best” during the roundtable discussion.

He also discussed instances of antisemitism at Harvard, including anonymous antisemitic social media posts, chants like “globalize the intifada” at pro-Palestine protests, and a recent antisemitic cartoon shared by faculty and student advocacy groups.

Kestenbaum is also one of six Jewish students who filed a lawsuit against Harvard in January, alleging that the University has failed to address antisemitism on campus. Last week, a group of alumni sued Harvard, arguing that its handling of antisemitism diminished the value of their degrees.

During the question and answer portion of the roundtable, Kestenbaum took aim at Harvard’s Office of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging — which has emerged at the forefront of criticisms surrounding Harvard’s response to antisemitism.

“To call them useless would be an understatement,” Kestenbaum said, referring to the office. “They have festered antisemitism time and time again on their campus. They have refused to take any meaningful action.”

In her concluding remarks, Foxx hinted that the committee would continue to pressure Harvard and peer universities on antisemitism, saying that Thursday’s discussion “may not be the last” roundtable the committee hosts.

“We are not going to stop making sure that we do everything that we can, here in the House of Representatives, to make sure that these students are kept safe,” Foxx added.

—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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