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Nearly 400 Pro-Israel Harvard Affiliates Sign Letter Urging ‘Significant Consequences’ for Protesters

Nearly 400 pro-Israel Harvard alumni and affiliates signed an open letter condeming an alleged escalation of antisemitism on campus during the pro-Palestine Yard encampment.
Nearly 400 pro-Israel Harvard alumni and affiliates signed an open letter condeming an alleged escalation of antisemitism on campus during the pro-Palestine Yard encampment. By Frank S. Zhou
By Tilly R. Robinson and Neil H. Shah, Crimson Staff Writers

Nearly 400 pro-Israel Harvard alumni and affiliates signed an open letter to interim Harvard President Alan M. Garber ’76 condemning “the alarming escalation of antisemitism” on campus during the pro-Palestine encampment in Harvard Yard.

The letter, sent Tuesday night, comes after the Faculty of Arts and Sciences voted Monday to add 13 College seniors back to the list of degrees recommended for conferral after they were suspended or placed on probation by the Harvard College Administrative Board over their participation in the encampment.

The FAS’ move, which awaits approval from Harvard’s governing bodies, effectively sidestepped the Ad Board. The sanctions, handed down just days before Harvard’s Commencement ceremonies, were widely criticized by both faculty and students.

But the authors of Tuesday’s letter wrote that Harvard should levy “significant consequences for the leaders of the encampment, a strong condemnation of antisemitism, and an end to discrimination against the pro-Israel community.”

The letter singled out faculty who participated in the encampment or assisted protesters, arguing that their presence “created an unsafe learning environment for many Jews and Israelis.”

It also called on University leadership to issue a statement “condemning all forms of antisemitism, especially HOOP and the encampers” — referring to Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine, the unrecognized coalition of student groups that organized the 20-day demonstration.

University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain did not immediately comment on the letter.

The letter's signatories can be found here.

The letter also called out Garber’s agreement with HOOP to end the protest. It specifically referenced Garber’s decision to allow HOOP to meet with a member of the Harvard Corporation — the University’s top governing body — to discuss the endowment and argued that pro-Israel Harvard affiliates should be allowed the same access to administrators.

“No such meeting has been offered to the pro-Israel community, which has consistently abided by Harvard protocol and the laws of Massachusetts,” the letter read.

“Failure to exact appropriate disciplinary measures for offenses will set a dangerously lenient precedent for future breaches of university policy,” it added. “It indicates that HOOP’s actions had no significant consequences, which could easily lead to more flagrant violations in the future.”

Tuesday’s letter was signed by roughly 80 Harvard faculty — including many from Harvard Medical School, where it was first circulated, and a handful from the FAS.

The proposed statement on antisemitism in the letter — which would classify HOOP’s actions as antisemitic — could be a landmine for Harvard administrators, who have previously struggled to weigh such demands against definitional debates and concerns about free speech.

When former Harvard President Claudine Gay condemned the pro-Palestine chant “from the river to the sea” as antisemitic in a Nov. 9 University-wide email, more than 100 Harvard faculty signed a letter criticizing her condemnation as prescriptive and a threat to open dialogue.

The letter also asks Harvard to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Association’s widely-used definition of antisemitism.

The IHRA definition has drawn criticism for its assertion that certain critiques of Israel, including describing Israel as racist or “applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation,” are antisemitic.

In a Dec. 29 op-ed in The Crimson, History professor Derek Penslar — who is a co-chair of the University’s task force to combat antisemitism — encouraged Harvard affiliates to consider definitions of antisemitism that “leave more room for criticism of Israel,” which he described as “more conducive to the essential, though difficult, conversations happening within the Harvard community.”

The Tuesday letter said its signatories called for open dialogue, asserting that HOOP organizers had told encampment participants not to speak pro-Israel affiliates.

“We believe that dialogue is an essential component not only for education, but also for developing empathy,” the letter said.

“We look forward to Harvard facilitating opportunities for mutual understanding and that the HOOP members will join us in finding ways to live, work, and learn together,” it added.

—Staff writer Tilly R. Robinson can be reached at tilly.robinson@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @tillyrobin.

—Staff writer Neil H. Shah can be reached at neil.shah@thecrimson.com. Follow him on X @neilhshah15.

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