Harvard University provides its students with unparalleled knowledge, skills and experiences. Yet, as we Jewish students have witnessed, the routine vilification of the State of Israel — both inside and outside the classroom — indicates that something in Harvard’s contemporary education has gone seriously awry.
In the latest example of this trend, the editorial board of the Harvard Crimson endorsed the movement to boycott, divest, and sanction (BDS) the Jewish state in an April 29 editorial. BDS represents the economic arm of a global effort — spearheaded militarily by Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran — to destroy the Jewish state.
That a majority of the Crimson’s 87-member editorial board believes this movement to be part of the global struggle for social justice has significance both for Harvard and American society more broadly. The hostility toward Israel that has permeated our campus — which often involves the endorsement of anti-Semitic attitudes, assumptions, and activities — is symptomatic of larger trends: a retreat from robust critical thinking and a surrender to the most hysterical, least rigorous elements of campus activism.
Such trends at Harvard are regrettable not merely because BDS is fundamentally anti-Semitic but also because its advocacy rests upon several falsehoods. The most pernicious is the idea that Jews don’t belong in Israel, that their presence constitutes an act of colonialism against the native Palestinian population. Such a position betrays an often-contrived ignorance of the millennia-long connection between the land of Israel and the Jewish people. It is also a denial of the right of self-defense for history’s most persecuted minority.
Yet this view has become de rigueur in a contemporary Harvard education. The Chan School of Public Health hosts courses such as “The Settler Colonial Determinants of Health,” which focuses on demonstrating how Israel’s “settler colonial” society undermines the health of “indigenous people.” Harvard Divinity School’s program of Religion and Public Life has hosted a year-long series of anti-Israel seminars, platforming numerous speakers who advocate for the “decolonization” and even the “de-Judaisation” of Israel. It is hard to imagine that any other national entity would be subject to seminar after seminar informing them that their own national aspirations are uniquely illegitimate.
This makes Harvard less welcoming for Jewish students. Those who wish to enter the classes of Amos Yadlin, a retired Israeli general and politician, at Harvard Kennedy School have had to walk through a gauntlet of protesters accusing them of complicity in genocide. Jewish students have had to walk next to the “apartheid wall” constructed in Harvard Yard during Passover, which employs Holocaust imagery to depict Israel’s behavior toward Palestinians and declares that “Zionism = Racism.”
Inside many classrooms, Jewish students are too intimidated to speak out against the new intellectual and social orthodoxy that deems Israel to be the world’s worst human-rights violator. Having witnessed this process repeat itself across the university, we can’t avoid the suspicion that such hatred of the world’s largest Jewish collective is a smokescreen for something darker.
The Crimson’s endorsement of BDS has engendered a backlash within the Harvard community. Multiple former Crimson editors, current Crimson editors, and former Harvard president Lawrence Summers have all issued denouncements. An open letter opposing BDS has recently been signed by close to 150 faculty members. However, most of these signatories teach at Harvard’s medical and business schools and are therefore far removed from the classrooms in which such issues are likely to be discussed. The departments that produce future politicians, journalists, and members of the intelligentsia — especially Harvard’s Divinity School, Kennedy School, and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences — have become fortresses of anti-Israel ideology.
That Harvard students are absorbing and endorsing BDS attitudes raises central questions about their educational experience. Does nothing in their training demand a critical assessment of these ideas? Why have Harvard students, supposedly loyal to the value of veritas, abandoned the pursuit of complex truths in favor of wholesale condemnation of the world’s only Jewish country? Most importantly, if hatred of the Jewish state becomes the default position across campus, do Jewish students have a future at Harvard? The university should take a long, hard look at the attitudes currently holding favor within its confines.
J.J. Kimche is a Ph.D. student in Harvard’s department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. Angélique Talmor is an MPP Student in Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and a Visiting Research Fellow at the Hudson Institute. This piece originally appeared in City Journal.