Friday, February 23, 2024

Harvard Faculty & Staff reposts antisemitic cartoon

From The Washington Post.

Harvard University is again embroiled in a controversy over antisemitism on campus, after student groups and a faculty group shared an antisemitic cartoon.

In a statement late Tuesday, Harvard interim president Alan M. Garber condemned the cartoon, calling it “flagrantly antisemitic,” after it was shared on social media by two student groups — the Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee and the African American Resistance Organization — and reposted by Harvard Faculty and Staff for Justice in Palestine.

Garber said the cartoon depicted a hand labeled with a Star of David with a dollar sign in the middle holding nooses that were tied around the necks of an Arab man and a Black man. 

Screenshots of the cartoon appeared to show that the men were boxer and antiwar activist Muhammad Ali and former Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser. 

The cartoon was shared as part of an infographic on the historical links between pro-Palestinian and civil rights groups.

The student groups have since taken down the image and apologized for posting it, saying in a joint statement that it violated their standards and values. 

They have since reposted the infographic without the offensive image. 

The staff and faculty group also apologized and retracted its post.

But the criticism has not abated, with one Harvard student posting that the incident highlighted why “Jewish students don’t feel safe in class.”

On Tuesday, Garber — who was appointed after his predecessor, Claudine Gay, resigned amid criticism of her congressional testimony on antisemitism at Harvard and over allegations of plagiarism — said the school will seek to “better understand who was responsible for the posting and to determine what further steps are warranted.”

Incidents of antisemitism and Islamophobia have risen on college campuses, where the war in Gaza is a heated topic.

Harvard and other universities are the target of a Republican-led congressional investigation into allegations that they are not doing enough to combat antisemitism on campus. 

On Friday, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce served subpoenas to Harvard officials to compel the university to turn over more documents, including details from meetings of its two most powerful governing boards, and all communications about antisemitism involving the governing boards, as part of its investigation.

The subpoenas, which experts called unprecedented, raised questions about academic freedom, safety on campus and the boundaries of free speech.

The House committee on Monday condemned the cartoon and said, “This repugnant antisemitism should have no place in our society, much less on Harvard’s faculty.”

The Harvard Crimson on Wednesday reported that Walter Johnson, a professor of history and of African and African American studies, resigned from the group and as a faculty adviser to the Palestine Solidarity Committee amid the backlash. 

It was not immediately clear whether his resignation was caused by the controversy over the groups’ use of the cartoon. 

The committee told the Crimson in a statement that Johnson’s term as adviser was due to end soon and that conversations about his stepping down “were ongoing.” 

Johnson did not immediately respond to an overnight request for comment from The Washington Post.

Garber said in his statement that “Jewish, Israeli, Muslim, Palestinian, and Arab” members of the Harvard community “have reported feeling targeted, rejected, and ostracized.”

“Reckless provocation draws attention without advancing understanding,” he said. 

“The war and its effects on the lives of people directly affected by the conflict demand our profound concern and sympathy.”

Online, many students and staff and faculty members condemned the cartoon and framed the incident as part of a wider problem around antisemitism at Harvard.

Harvard Hillel, the Jewish student center, called the cartoon “deeply disturbing” and said it expected the university to respond. 

“This post follows an alarming increase in antisemitism on our campus in recent weeks,” it said.

On Wednesday, a group of alumni filed a lawsuit in federal district court calling for an injunction ordering Harvard to take concrete steps to “end antisemitism on its campus and hold accountable those who allowed antisemitism to fester.” 

The complaint also claims that their Harvard degrees have been diminished in value by Harvard’s failure to address the problem, and seeks compensation.

Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in a statement the lawsuit reflects the growing outrage alumni at many U.S. campuses feel. 

She blamed “radical” faculty and “impotent” responses from administrators for turning colleges into “hate centers.”

A spokesman for Harvard declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Shabbos Kestenbaum, a graduate student at Harvard Divinity School who is suing Harvard over antisemitism, condemned the post on X, formerly known as Twitter. 

“Harvard *faculty* just posted an explicitly antisemitic poster depicting a Jewish hand controlling the black mind,” he wrote Monday.

“With Professors like these, it’s easy to see why we Jewish students don’t feel safe in class,” he added.

The student groups said in their post that the original image was created by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, a civil rights group from the 1960s, and was included in the post out of negligence.

Harvard Faculty and Staff for Justice in Palestine also apologized Monday. 

“It has come to our attention that a post featuring antiquated cartoons which used offensive antisemitic tropes was linked to our account,” the pro-Palestinian collective wrote on Instagram

“We removed the content as soon as it came to our attention.”

“We apologize for the hurt that these images have caused and do not condone them in any way,” it said.

Susan Svrluga contributed to this report.

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