Over 1,000 Israelis from Students for Justice in America (SJA), an organization supported by the Israeli civil rights law center, Shurat Hadin, have signed a letter notifying The Harvard Crimson editorial board that their office is located on “stolen” land. It is a response to an April 29 editorial in Harvard’s student newspaper, titled, “In Support of Boycott, Divest, Sanctions and a Free Palestine.” SJA’s letter explained that Cambridge, Massachusetts, “is territory that belongs to the Massachusett (indigenous) people,” and that this land “was taken from these native tribes during its earliest conquest by French and British colonialists and then the American military.”
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts took its land and name from the Neponset band of the Massachusett, a Native American tribe that thrived in the region for thousands of years. Once they were infected by diseases, tribe members became debilitated and were in too weak a state to defend their land and resources from being violently taken by European and North American colonists. Letter correspondence from British army commander-in-chief, Sir Jeffrey Amherst and other military commanders revealed that they thought of distributing blankets contaminated with small-pox to Native Americans as a form of biological warfare against them. It is not known if this sinister plan was the reason for the Massachusett tribe’s illnesses.
The SJA letter continued by demanding that The Crimson and “its woke editorial board and staff immediately evacuate the 14 Plympton Street, Cambridge property it occupies at Harvard and return it to the Massachusett people.”
The Crimson editorial that endorsed the BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanctions) Movement accused Israel of stealing land from Palestinians. Phrases like “land confiscations,” “illegal settlements” and “occupied Palestine” were used to illustrate this point. There was no mention of the fact that Palestinian leadership has rejected Israeli land offers seven times since 1948.
Also absent from the editorial were historical accounts of land ownership in Israel. In the second millennium BCE, Abraham purchased land in Hebron, a present-day Palestinian city in the southern West Bank, from The Hittites. During King David’s reign (970-1010 BCE), he purchased the threshing floor from Araunah, a Canaanite, which is where the Temple Mount is. These events are recorded in Genesis 23 and 2 Samuel 24, respectively.
Or Hikry, project manager of Shurat Hadin, and one of the students who signed and assisted with drafting the SJA letter, explained, “People are always forgetting that the Jewish people are the indigenous people of the land of Israel. It’s really not the same example. For Jews it’s very clear, also for Christians, also for Muslims it’s very clear. The Jews came back to the land of Israel. We didn’t take it by force. We rightfully own this land, the entire land, and we are working with everyone who wants to live in peace with us, but when the United Nations… or The Harvard Crimson targets the Israeli government or the Israeli people, (or) the Jews in Israel and says that the BDS Movement is not antisemitic, then we should remind them of their own issue.”
Lana Melman, Co-founding member of End Jew Hatred and author of Artists Under Fire: The BDS War against Celebrities, Jews, and Israel, noted, “BDS supporters like The Harvard Crimson editorial board falsely accuse the Jews of Israel of stealing Palestinian land. The smear is a thinly veiled incarnation of the age-old antisemitic lie about ‘thieving Jews.’ Jews have been saying Israel is our homeland for over 3,000 years and the Dead Sea Scrolls are carbon-dated to be in between 100 and 300 BCE.” Melman added, “Now SJA is pressing a fact that the Ivy League institution has buried or at least turned a blind eye to for centuries – it sits on stolen land. How will the editorial board, which claims to care so much about indigenous rights, respond to the hypocrisy and shame? I applaud SJA for going on the offense. For far too long, Israel supporters have played exclusively defense.”
SJA’s letter also draws attention to the fact that Native American students comprise only 0.5 percent of The Crimson’s editorial staff. It stated, “The real principles of equality and social justice require you to greatly enhance the number of Native Americans at your paper. It’s ironic to have The Crimson call out Israel on discriminatory policies when you yourself perpetuate such discriminatory conduct…. Justice and morality must begin at home.” A June 2, 2021, Associated Press article, “For Native Americans, Harvard and other colleges fall short,” described experiences of Harvard Native American students like Emily Van Dyke, who “believes Native American students are not just struggling to adjust to campus life, but also feel left out of broader campus conversations at Harvard because of structural racism and other factors.”
Lori Lowenthal Marcus, Harvard Law alumna and Legal Director of the Deborah Project, a law firm that defends victims of antisemitism and anti-Zionism in educational settings, praised SJA for shining a spotlight on The Crimson’s double standards. “It’s fun to see the self-righteous performative twits at The Harvard Crimson get hoisted with their own petard. Hooray for the Students for Justice in America calling out The Crimson for demanding purity from imagined transgressions when they – by their own standards – need to clean (and move) their own houses before telling others what to do.”
She declared, “I admire the SJA for calling out the hypocrisy rampant on U.S. campuses regarding Israel. I wish more American Jews had the courage to stand up on their hind legs and actually fight back – forcefully – against the toxic antisemitism in educational settings in the U.S.”
The Crimson editorial that endorsed the BDS Movement stated, “We unambiguously oppose and condemn antisemitism in every and all forms.” Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, co-founder and director of AMCHA Initiative, a non-profit organization devoted to investigating antisemitism on U.S. campuses, explained, “There is a strong positive correlation between BDS activity and the harassment of Jewish students for harm.” On November 16, The Algemeiner published an article entitled “Harvard University Had Most Antisemitic Incidents Last Year: Report.”
Neither The Crimson, nor Harvard’s Native American Program or The Pluralism Project replied to requests for a comment.