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Forging Harvard's Future

By Laurinne Eugenio
By Maya A. Bodnick, Contributing Opinion Writer
Maya A. Bodnick is a Government concentrator in Mather House. Her column, “Forging Harvard’s Future,” appears bi-weekly on Tuesdays.

Since interim University President Alan M. Garber ’76 took office, antisemitism has continued to thrive at Harvard. In the first two months of his presidency, Garber hasn’t done any better than his predecessor, former University President Claudine Gay, at addressing this explosion of hatred.

Over winter break, I saw Harvard’s Sidechat page inundated with anonymous hateful messages denying the atrocities of Oct. 7, calling Zionists pedophiles, and promoting theories that Jews control the University. Walking to my first day of classes at the beginning of the semester, I passed by posters of Israeli hostages defaced with hateful phrases like “Israel did 9/11.” One Harvard employee even defended this disgusting graffiti, threatening a Jewish Harvard Divinity School student on TikTok and challenging him to a debate about Israel’s role in the 9/11 attacks.

Most recently, on Feb. 19, two pro-Palestine student organizations and Harvard Faculty and Staff for Justice in Palestine posted a deeply antisemitic cartoon on Instagram, which portrayed Jews as puppet masters strangling an Arab and Black person. Antisemitism on campus has become so widespread that some students have given up wearing kippahs for fear of being identified as Jewish.

Despite this surge of hatred, many at Harvard believe that antisemitism is made-up or exaggerated. For example, one Sidechat post epitomized this ignorant point of view: “Nobody would even know you’re Jewish if you didn’t tell them just by looking at you on the street and yet you’re scared? Of what lol.”

As a Jewish woman with distinctly Ashkenazi features who frequently writes about her identity, calls out antisemitism, and spends time at Hillel — yes, I’m scared.

I’m scared that some of my classmates, or even my professors, hate people like me. I’m left wondering: How many of the people who teach me and sit next to me in class believe that Jews are evil puppet masters who committed 9/11 and control the global order with their deep pockets?

I can’t believe I’m seriously contemplating these questions at Harvard. I came to college expecting to join an open, welcoming community of scholars. But I have personally witnessed more antisemitism during my short time at Harvard than in the entirety of the eighteen years before I set foot on campus.

One of Garber’s primary responsibilities is tamping down on antisemitism. But he is failing.

He has done little else than toothlessly condemn last month’s cartoon, and he is not addressing antisemitism with the urgency it requires. After becoming president, it took Garber nearly two months to announce the members of his antisemitism task force — which seems to have not yet issued a single recommendation. Reportedly skeptical of Harvard’s commitment to addressing antisemitism, former task force co-chair Rafaella Sadun resigned. The task force feels like a bureaucratic dead man walking.

To be fair, Garber isn’t responsible for the increase in antisemitism on campus. And, to his credit, his administration asked Sidechat to enforce its moderation policies to curb antisemitic content.

Nevertheless, it’s time for Garber to take concrete steps and address the antisemitic environment on campus as soon as possible.

First and foremost, Garber must swear that the recommendations of the task force will be taken seriously.

Next, Garber must ensure that the task force picks up the pace and delivers concrete recommendations. Antisemitism is not an academic problem to be studied and mulled over for months or years. It’s a brutal reality for many Jewish students at this school, and there have been enough delays. Nearly five months have passed since Oct. 7, and it’s long past time for the school (and the task force) to deliver.

Third, Garber must clarify the threshold for punishing hate speech on campus and indicate how the University will discipline offending students. More transparent guidelines can help address all offensive speech on campus — antisemitic and otherwise.

Finally, in addition to reactive punishments, Garber must take proactive steps to educate students and faculty on the dangers of antisemitism. According to Harvard Divinity School visiting scholar Rabbi David J. Wolpe, many professors and students here subscribe to an “ideology that works only along axes of oppression and places Jews as oppressors and therefore intrinsically evil.” To combat these biases, antisemitism training should be required for all Harvard staff and students — not just administrators involved in diversity efforts and disciplinary processes.

Harvard needs a president who will protect Jewish students from this explosion of hate. If Garber isn’t up for the job, it’s time for him to step up — or else, step down.

Maya A. Bodnick is a Government concentrator in Mather House. Her column, “Forging Harvard’s Future,” appears bi-weekly on Tuesdays.

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