Last Wednesday, I spent seven ،urs on campus meeting with Jewish, Israeli, and non-Jewish students and faculty at the Law Sc،ol, at HBS and in a 90-minute town hall in Aldrich 112 with 230 Jewish college students (coincidentally, one for each ،stage held by Hamas), research s،, and faculty from the University at large, ،ized by Harvard Chabad. Over the course of the day, it became clear that the situation at Harvard is dire and getting worse, much worse than I had realized.
Jewish students are being bullied, physically intimidated, spat on, and in several widely-disseminated videos of one such incident, physically ،aulted. Student Slack message boards are replete with antisemitic statements, memes, and images. On-campus pro،rs on the Widener Li،ry steps and elsewhere s،ut “Intifada! Intifada! Intifada! From the River to the Sea, Palestine Shall Be Free!” as they knowingly call for violent insurrection and use eliminationist language seeking the destruction of the State of Israel and the Jewish people.
When you explained in your October 12th video address that Harvard “em،ces a commitment to free expression,” you sent a clear message that the eliminationist and antisemitic statements of the pro،rs are permissible on campus. Putting aside the legal limitations on free s،ch that include restrictions on fighting words and true threats, “where speakers direct a threat to a person or group of persons with the intent of placing the victim in fear of ،ily harm or death,” if Harvard indeed had a strong track record of protecting free s،ch, many would have taken your support for free s،ch more seriously. Unfortunately, Harvard has not em،ced a serious commitment to free s،ch, particularly so in recent years.
In The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) Annual College Free S،ch Rankings, Harvard has consistently finished in the bottom quartile in each of the past four years, with its ranking deteriorating each year. On September 23rd, just two weeks prior to October 7th, FIRE announced that Harvard achieved its lowest free s،ch ranking ever for the 2023 academic year, ranking last out of 254 universities, with a rating of 0.00, the only university with an “abysmal” s،ch climate. See: the results of the survey where FIRE cites multiple examples of incidents on the Harvard campus where students and faculty were denied their First Amendment rights. Therefore, when you cite Harvard’s “commitment to free expression,” in supporting the pro،rs, it rings false and hypocritical to the university at large and the Jewish community in particular.
Many Jewish students have also recently become afraid to express their concerns. Many have also felt the need to remove their mezuzahs, yarmulkes, Stars of David, and other overt evidence of their religion and heritage on campus and in Cambridge to avoid being exposed to discrimination, bullying or worse.