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Lowell House Deans, Safra Center Denounce Panel on Antisemitism and Islamophobia Following Backlash

Lowell House is one of 12 undergraduate houses at Harvard College. The Lowell House Faculty Deans and the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Ethics removed themselves as co-sponsors of a panel on Islamophobia and antisemitism.
Lowell House is one of 12 undergraduate houses at Harvard College. The Lowell House Faculty Deans and the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Ethics removed themselves as co-sponsors of a panel on Islamophobia and antisemitism. By Megan M. Ross
By Asher J. Montgomery, Crimson Staff Writer

Updated March 20, 2024 at 4:38 p.m.

The Lowell House Faculty Deans and the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Ethics removed themselves as co-sponsors of an upcoming Thursday panel on Islamophobia and antisemitism, following student complaints and public criticism that the event failed to include Jewish and Zionist voices.

In an email to Lowell residents just after midnight on Tuesday, Lowell Faculty Deans David I. Laibson ’88 and Nina Zipser and Safra Center Director Eric Beerbohm wrote that the event lacked “the broad range of views necessary to support a culture of civil disagreement” and that the panelists “do not speak” for Lowell House or the Safra Center.

The email was sent following complaints to Laibson and Zipser from four Lowell residents who said they felt excluded by the event, according to its organizer, Lowell resident tutor Chance Bonar.

The panel is slated to feature Shaul Magid, a visiting professor of Modern Jewish studies at the Harvard Divinity School, and Harvard Ph.D. candidates Madeline J. Levy and Mafaz Al-Suwaidan, though Bonar said the lineup is subject to change following complaints.

In a Monday post on X, HDS student Shabbos “Alexander” Kestenbaum criticized Bonar’s affiliation with a faculty group that reposted an antisemitic cartoon last month and Al-Suwaiden’s social media posts about Israel and Palestine.

“The moderator published the horrific antisemitic cartoon last month,” Kestenbaum wrote in the post, which received almost 90,000 views. “Co-panelist Al-Suwaidan equates Zionism with Nazism+and praises Arab terrorists. Welcome to Harvard.”

In an email to The Crimson, Kestenbaum added that the panel “features no panelist who supports the continued existence of the State of Israel” and said the “Jewish presence is tokenized” by the inclusion of Magid, who has described himself as “counter-Zionist.”

Magid said he still intends on speaking at the event and wrote in a statement following this article's publication that he supports “the continued existence of the State of Israel.”

Al-Suwaidan could not be reached for comment on Tuesday, while Levy did not respond to a request for comment.

In his post, Kestenbaum also criticized the event for including information about to-go meals for students observing Ramadan while omitting any information about kosher food or Ta’anit Esther, a Jewish holiday which also involves fasting.

“It is commendable that the organizers included Halal food and offered to-go containers for those observing Ramadan. But it is obviously discriminatory to do so while making no similar arrangements for those observing the Fast of Esther, which ends less than an hour after Ramadan,” Kestenbaum wrote in the email. “There is no justification for showing such sympathy to Muslim students while ignoring their Jewish peers.

Laibson, Zipser, and Beerbohm wrote in their email that students will receive a revised invitation with information about take-away kosher meals for fasting Jewish students. The updated information will also remove the Lowell House and Safra Center logos.

In a Monday statement, Beerbohm wrote that the event was publicized without the permission of the Safra Center.

“The composition of the event is not in keeping with the principles of civil disagreement we uphold at the Center, which demand representation from multiple perspectives, particularly on contentious issues of the moment,” Beerbohm wrote. “We have made clear that we cannot co-sponsor or support this event as it currently stands.”

Bonsar said that he felt pressure from Laibson and Zipser to include a Zionist member of the panel, which Bonsar said would “skew” the perspectives.

“I voiced my concern that it felt that it would be inappropriate to just simply add a pro-Zionist Jewish scholar’s voice here,” Bonar said in an interview, “because then it’d be three scholars of Judaism, one scholar of Islam, and that felt kind of unfair and imbalanced in a totally different way.”

Bonar said that he “was not aware” that Laibson and Zipser expected a diverse range of viewpoints on Zionism, rather than simply scholars with “differing thoughts on definitions of antisemitism and Islamophobia.”

He added that in light of the complaints, he wants to make all students feel included and said the current panelists would be adequately prepared to discuss a variety of viewpoints.

“I hope that the range of diverse viewpoints on the topic of religious discrimination will be satisfactory for them and for the audience at Lowell House,” Bonar said.

—Staff writer Asher J. Montgomery can be reached at Follow her on X @asherjmont or on Threads @asher_montgomery.

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