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Interim Harvard President Alan Garber ’76 Grilled by Students at Iftar Event

Interim Harvard President Alan M. Garber '76 faced a grilling from Harvard students during a Friday iftar event.
Interim Harvard President Alan M. Garber '76 faced a grilling from Harvard students during a Friday iftar event. By Marina Qu
By Emma H. Haidar and Cam E. Kettles, Crimson Staff Writers

Interim President Alan M. Garber ’76 planned to briefly address Harvard Muslim affiliates during a Friday iftar event. Instead, he faced a grilling.

Tough questions from Harvard students about a perceived lack of support from the University’s administration for Muslim and Arab affiliates turned Garber’s 15-minute appearance into an impromptu interrogation.

The students asked Garber about the University’s stance on the Israel-Hamas war and the University’s handling of doxxing attacks against Muslim and Arab students. They also criticized what they saw as a repression of pro-Palestinian speech by Garber’s administration.

Asmer A. Safi ’24, who attended the event, described Garber’s responses as “non-answers.”

“Generally, people left the session frustrated with his ability to go without having answered any of the questions directly,” Safi wrote in a statement.

At iftar, a meal Muslims eat after sunset to break their fast during Ramadan, Garber asked attendees to “work together” to combat division.

The event was attended by more than 100 people, including two of the task force’s co-chairs, Harvard Kennedy School professor Asim Ijaz Khwaja and Middle Eastern Studies professor Ali S.A. Asani ’77, who moderated the discussion.

“At times like these, when we confront ignorance and hate in a university dedicated to their opposites, when we see division in the world reflected in conflict on our own campus — when, indeed, so many in our community endure indescribable suffering, pain, and loss — now more than ever, we must redouble our commitments to embracing one another and to making a difference in the world,” Garber said, according to a copy of his prepared remarks.

“None of us can do that work alone,” he added. “We need one another, especially when darkness obscures light.”

Safi also criticized the administration for suppressing pro-Palestinian voices on campus.

“While I hope that the initiative for the task force is a genuine good faith effort, Harvard has failed our community unimaginably,” he said.

“These efforts cannot be decoupled from Harvard's investments in Israel's genocide, and its repression of pro-Palestine voices,” Safi added. “Harvard cannot claim to listen to its Muslim and Arab students while simultaneously silencing them when they speak out, and funding violence against their communities.”

While Garber was responding to students’ questions, he frequently referenced the ongoing work of the presidential task force he established to combat anti-Muslim and anti-Arab bias.

After the task force was created in January, members held listening sessions last week alongside the task force to combat antisemitism. The group has not publicly released recommendations from their discussions or fully named the students who will serve on the task force, according to a Harvard website.

The Department of Education started an investigation into Harvard in Febuary after a complaint alleged the University failed to protect students from anti-Muslim and anti-Arab discrimination.

The University also cut its Ramadan meal programming from the entire month to two days a week, citing budget constraints. Neither the investigation nor the funding cut was addressed at the event Friday.

Samy Almshref ’26, another event attendee, said he believed Garber’s remarks “showcased a clear reluctance to mention Palestine and Gaza.”

“When asked about Harvard’s role and moral position on Palestine, he expressed vagueness and ambiguity,” Almshref wrote in a statement.

A University spokesperson declined to comment for this article.

Earlier on Friday, Harvard Law School Student Government passed a resolution that “formally calls upon HMC to divest completely from weapons manufacturers, firms, academic programs, corporations, and all other institutions that aid the ongoing illegal occupation of Palestine and the genocide of Palestinians.”

University spokesperson Jason A. Newton wrote in a statement Friday afternoon that “Harvard leadership has made clear that it opposes calls for a policy of boycotting Israel and its academic institutions.”

Garber, however, sidestepped the questions about calls for the University to divest from Israel at the iftar event.

But the attendees decided to answer the question themselves. Toward the end of Garber’s appearance, a student asked the gathered crowd to raise their hand if they preferred the University divest from Israel instead of having a task force.

Many people raised their hands.

—Staff writer Emma H. Haidar can be reached at emma.haidar@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @HaidarEmma.

—Staff writer Cam E. Kettles can be reached at cam.kettles@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @cam_kettles or on Threads @camkettles.

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CollegeStudent LifeReligionUniversityFront FeatureAlan GarberIsrael PalestineLeadership Crisis