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Columbia Professor Shai Davidai Says Harvard Failed to Protect Jewish Students at Monday Counterprotest

Columbia Business School assistant professor Shai Davidai, who rose to prominence for criticizing pro-Palestine student protesters and the administrative response at Columbia, addressed pro-Israel counterprotesters during a Monday rally outside Harvard Yard on Israel's Memorial Day, Yom HaZikaron.
Columbia Business School assistant professor Shai Davidai, who rose to prominence for criticizing pro-Palestine student protesters and the administrative response at Columbia, addressed pro-Israel counterprotesters during a Monday rally outside Harvard Yard on Israel's Memorial Day, Yom HaZikaron. By Frank S. Zhou
By Frank S. Zhou, Crimson Staff Writer

Columbia Business School assistant professor Shai Davidai accused Harvard of failing to protect its Jewish and Israeli students in a Monday afternoon counterprotest outside Johnston Gate.

Davidai, an Israeli professor who rose to prominence for criticizing pro-Palestine student protesters and the administrative response at Columbia, spoke at Harvard Hillel before counterprotesting a pro-Palestine demonstration in support of the Harvard Yard encampment.

During the counterprotest, Davidai slammed Harvard for failing to ensure student safety amid the pro-Palestine encampment in Harvard Yard. The demonstration — which came to an end just one day after Davidai’s remarks at the rally — remained peaceful in its entirety.

“Five U.S. citizens are being held hostage in Gaza, by the very same forces that this encampment and these protesters are cheering on,” Davidai said.

“Instead of Harvard doing its job of protecting all students — including Jewish students, including Israeli students — Harvard has decided that it cares more about money and PR and doesn’t do anything about it,” Davidai said in an interview with The Crimson following the rally.

Harvard spokesperson Jason A. Newton referred The Crimson to a March 4 statement which said that “Harvard denounced antisemitism on our campus and has made clear that the University will continue to take actions to combat antisemitism in any form.”

Newton also reiterated Harvard’s efforts to address antisemitism on campus. In addition to the creation of a task force on combating antisemitism, the University has doubled down on campus security and protest guidelines and held meetings with Jewish student organizations to ensure the “safety” and “sense of belonging for our Jewish students.”

The University placed at least 22 student protesters on involuntary leaves of absence for their participation in the pro-Palestine Harvard Yard encampment, though Garber said he will ask Harvard’s deans to begin reinstating the students in the wake of the encampment ending. More than 60 students who were called before various Administrative Boards — the primary disciplinary bodies of each Harvard school — will see their cases expedited, but not dismissed.

Pro-Israel counterprotesters held Israeli flags and a large American flag during a Monday rally at Johnston Gate.
Pro-Israel counterprotesters held Israeli flags and a large American flag during a Monday rally at Johnston Gate. By Frank S. Zhou

During the rally, Davidai also criticized the pro-Palestinian protesters for not waving American flags like the counterprotesters did, which he said was “because they do not want the U.S. and what it stands for to prevail.”

Elyse Spink, an Arlington High School senior who joined the pro-Palestine rally with many of her classmates, said they “want to show our support for the really brave students here at Harvard who are risking their spot at the University by participating in the encampment.”

During Davidai’s remarks, the pro-Palestine protesters played music and interrupted him.

The pro-Israel counterprotesters ended their protest by playing the Israeli and American national anthems, during which Davidai filmed the pro-Palestine protesters’ faces. The pro-Palestine demonstrators declined Davidai’s offer to join pro-Israel counterprotesters in singing the American national anthem and played the Palestinian national anthem instead.

Joshua J. Freundel, a 2022 Harvard Law School graduate and a former vice president of the Harvard Graduate Council who attended the counterprotest, said Davidai “has been a clarion call for this sort of antisemitism that has been rearing its head on campus.”

“We want peace. And we want there to be a free Palestine,” Freundel said.

But he added, if pro-Palestine protesters “won’t engage with us and they attempt to delegitimize our very identity — that is a very difficult thing, and ultimately you first have to fight for your own existence before you can try to make inroads for the other side to have peace.”

—Staff writer Frank S. Zhou can be reached at frank.zhou@thecrimson.com. Follow him on X @frank_s_zhou or on Threads @frank_s_zhou.

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