The day after Holocaust Remembrance Day, on April 29, The Harvard Crimson newspaper endorsed the BDS movement in an article entitled, “In Support of Boycott, Divest, Sanctions and a Free Palestine.” In the article, The Crimson praised the Palestinian Solidarity Committee (PSC), compared Israel to South Africa’s apartheid era, and addressed the “violence in occupied Palestine.”
The Jewish Press spoke to several Jewish students and alumni.
Israeli Harvard sophomore, Ido Burstein, told The Jewish Press, “They didn’t mention any of the Israelis that got killed.” He added, “It was really sad, the message of The Crimson…They mentioned that in Israel, in the past month, 50 Palestinians got killed, yet they didn’t mention the Israelis that got murdered by some of them; they didn’t mention the fact that they were terrorists.” Burstein also noted that if a true boycott was instated, Israeli students like himself would be unable to attend Harvard.
Ira Stoll, former president of The Crimson and managing editor of the journal Education Next, which is based at the Harvard Kennedy School, expressed his concern and outrage over the injustice of Jewish students being polarized. “It’s finals week around here,” he said, “In addition to competing in sports and participating in school and extracurricular activities, they’ve got to also fight off antisemitism on campus. It’s emotionally exhausting, it’s a huge burden on the students. You’re drawn into defending your basic right to be on the Harvard campus, which is constantly emphasizing how important it is to be diverse and inclusive. It’s like the one group that it doesn’t apply to is Israelis or people who believe in Israel’s right to exist.”
Harvard freshman, Alex Bernat, reported feeling an unsettling change in the climate on campus when PSC hosted Israeli Apartheid Week last month, which coincided with Passover. The Crimson described a wall of art panels PSC erected on campus as a “colorful, multi-panel ‘Wall of Resistance’ in favor of Palestinian freedom and sovereignty.” The wall left a completely different and horrifying impression on Bernat. He said one of the panels was “covered in this gray scale imagery showing cattle cars on a train rail with the names of companies on them that presumably they (PSC) would like to boycott. Those train cars were above a concentration camp-esque (area) with barbed wire, which could resemble Auschwitz. There were guards and you can see the Israeli flag on their shoulders and the only thing in color was one of the people inside the concentration camp holding a Palestinian flag… I thought it was appalling, the implication being that Israelis are something like Nazis.”
Burstein also felt disturbed upon having to see the wall on his way to class. “My great grandparents were in the Holocaust. I was very upset… A lot of people were upset… I don’t know how they got permission to do it,” he said. The first panel had the words “Zionism is Racism/Settler/Colonialism/White Supremacy/Apartheid” starkly painted in red and black. Burstein pointed out that stringing charged words like this together was meant to make an emotional impact on people, but was devoid of the reality of the situation.
He explained, “My grandparents, half of them are from Poland, one of them is from Lebanon and the other is from Egypt. I don’t think I’m white! Taking these narratives and just like throwing them on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I think is misleading.”
Bernat also found it deceptive that other parts of the wall had nothing to do with the Middle East, but was rather a concerted, propagandized effort to make being anti-Israel an inherent part of what it means to be “liberal.” He stated, “I think the idea was to try to conflate, if you believe in black lives matter, if you believe in gay rights, you must believe in BDS, which is, of course, a disgusting rhetorical strategy.”
No matter how controversial the images on the PSC wall were, nothing on it was destroyed. Bernat and some of his classmates had put up small posters on a bulletin board to combat the misinformation on the wall, and their posters were ripped down or covered up. Bernat explained, “One of the posters said, ‘Israel cares about human rights. Does Hamas?’, and had a headline of an honor killing and Hamas firing rockets from civilian areas, paying the families of suicide bombers when they kill Israelis, and Hamas killing gay people. One of the other ones was, ‘Over thirteen hundred Israelis have been murdered by Palestinian terrorists since September, 2000,’ and then there was a list of names.”
On April 22, the last day of Israeli Apartheid Week, Bernat heard that a swastika had been carved into the wall of the Currier House, an undergraduate dormitory. A police report was filed and an investigation started.
Burstein described the close-knit atmosphere of Chabad and Hillel, and how he unashamedly wears a Team Israel t-shirt when he plays varsity squash. He said, “Even though there are these issues… I would not say to Jewish students or Israeli students not to come here… I think they will have an amazing experience. There will be some tough times, but I think it will happen at almost every university in the U.S., sadly.”
Avi D. Gordon, Executive Director of Alums for Campus Fairness, has been following this case. “ACF’s Harvard chapter swiftly responded to the Harvard Crimson’s outrageous endorsement of BDS,” he said. “Our alumni organized a continuous flow of emails and high level touch points with top administrators, ultimately pressuring Harvard President Lawrence Bacow to make a statement.”
On May 3, Bacow condemned boycotts and antisemitism on campus. He would not comment specifically about The Crimson because they are independent from the university and have free press, but stated that the university does not share their views.