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Lowell Panel on Islamophobia and Antisemitism Canceled After Panelists Withdraw

A Lowell House panel on Islamophobia and antisemitism has been canceled after two of the panelists withdrew due to backlash.
A Lowell House panel on Islamophobia and antisemitism has been canceled after two of the panelists withdrew due to backlash. By Ike J. Park
By Asher J. Montgomery, Crimson Staff Writer

The organizer of a Lowell House panel on Islamophobia and antisemitism canceled the event Wednesday afternoon after two of the panelists withdrew due to backlash and a lack of institutional support for the event.

The cancellation comes after the Lowell House Faculty Deans and the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Ethics removed themselves as co-sponsors of the panel — originally scheduled for Thursday — following criticism of the range of political views offered by the panelists and a lack of information about kosher food at the event.

Chance E. Bonar, the panel organizer and a Lowell House resident tutor, wrote in a Wednesday email to Lowell affiliates that the event was canceled due to “withdrawals of institutional support, doxxing, hate mail, and uncharitable preemptive criticism.”

“Two panel participants — one Islamic studies scholar and one Jewish studies scholar — did not feel that they have the support needed to make themselves vulnerable and do the labor of offering a robust and meaningful discussion on religious discrimination,” Bonar wrote.

The panel was slated to feature Shaul Magid, a visiting professor of modern Jewish studies at the Harvard Divinity School, as well as Harvard Ph.D. candidates Madeline J. Levy and Mafaz Al-Suwaidan. Though Bonar did not specify which of the two Jewish studies scholars — Levy and Magid — withdrew, Magid told The Crimson on Tuesday that he intended to continue with the panel despite the backlash.

Magid declined to comment and Levy did not reply to a request for comment on Wednesday afternoon. Al-Suwaidan could not be reached for comment.

The public backlash against the panel was sparked by HDS student Shabbos “Alexander” Kestenbaum, who suggested in a post on X Monday that Al-Suwaidan and Bonar held antisemitic views and specifically criticized Bonar’s affiliation with Harvard Faculty and Staff for Justice in Palestine, which last month reposted an antisemitic cartoon on its Instagram account.

In a statement to The Crimson Tuesday, Kestenbaum also criticized the “tokenized” inclusion of Magid, writing that the event “features no panelist who supports the continued existence of the State of Israel.” Magid denied the charge in a Wednesday morning email, writing that he in fact supported Israel’s continued existence.

In a statement to The Crimson on Wednesday, Kestenbaum wrote that he was “unfairly rash” in his condemnation of Magid — who is a former professor of his — and that he “misrepresented his viewpoints,” though he added that the event still had “fundamental issues” due to the inclusion of Bonar and Al-Suwaidan.

Kestenbaum also publicly apologized to Magid and acknowledged mistakes in his previous statements in a Wednesday X post.

“While his views on Zionism differ from mine, he has *always* argued for the legitimacy of the existence of the state of Israel,” Kestenbaum wrote. “His critique of Zionism is what he calls ‘counter Zionism,’ not a rejection of the state of Israel but an analysis of whether Zionism continues to be the best ideological foundation for the continued flourishing of the state of Israel in the future.”

Lowell Faculty Deans David I. Laibson ’88 and Nina Zipser wrote in a statement to The Crimson Wednesday that they “personally supported having the event go forward in a Lowell House space,” and that they planned to pay for food costs out of their own personal funds.

They also wrote attesting to Bonar’s “extraordinary” contributions to Lowell House.

“He is a deeply dedicated resident tutor and outstanding teacher,” they wrote.

Safra Center Director Eric Beerbohm wrote in a Wednesday email that despite the Safra Center’s original objection to the panel, they continue to offer co-sponsorship for a future panel discussion.

In an email to Bonar and Lowell affiliates, former Lowell Faculty Dean and Religion professor Diana L. Eck said that she planned to attend the panel and was “so sorry” to see its cancellation.

“You created a very interesting panel and made many accommodations to the critics,” Eck wrote. “I shudder to think of the future of serious discussions here at Harvard and Lowell.”

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

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