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Push back at Harvard Crimson’s BDS

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (JNS) — Since the Harvard Crimson’s endorsement of the anti-Israel BDS movement two weeks ago, a group of more than 70  members of Harvard’s faculty has begun a petition to condemn and correct the Crimson’s editorial.

Organized by the Academic Engagement Network (AEN), it includes among its signatories Prof. Gabriella Blum; Dr. Amy Comander; Emeritus Prof. Alan Dershowitz, attorney; Dr. Gary R. Fleisher; Prof. Jesse Fried, Prof. Jeffrey Hamburger, art historian; Jewish Studies Prof. Jon D. Levenson; Prof. Robert Mnookin, Prof. Eric Nelson; Prof. Elisa New; Steven Pinker; psychologist; Prof. Steven Shavell; Prof. David Stern; Prof. Ruth Wisse and  Richard Zeckhauser, economist.

The petition will be sent to the Crimson, Harvard president Lawrence Bacow and other university officials after the signatures close at the end of the week.

The AEN, an independent, nonpartisan national organization comprised of more than 830 faculty members on more than 250 campuses across the US, has recently developed a guide for university administrators to help advance Israel literacy, as well as recognize and counter anti-Semitism.

Faculty members raised concerns about the effect of the BDS endorsement on the “well-being of Jewish and Zionist students at Harvard, some of whom have already reported that they have become alienated from the newspaper on account of the inhospitable culture that prevails there,” the petition stated.

According to the petition, the endorsement “compromises educational goals by turning the complex and intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict into a caricature that singles out only one side for blame with a false binary of oppressor versus oppressed.”

The faculty wrote that they supported the university’s ties to Israel — home to some of the world’s best universities in joint relationships that benefit research and teaching at Harvard.

The Crimson’s board portrayed BDS as advancing Palestinian rights and peace in the Middle East. In reality, according to the faculty members, the movement seeks to delegitimize Israel by opposing the very notion of Jewish peoplehood and self-determination, therefore coarsening the discourse on campus and contributing to growing anti-Semitism.

Unlike what the Crimson’s editorial board asserted, the BDS movement does not advocate coexistence, building toward a two-state solution “or dialogue with Israel’s supporters on campus,” according to the faculty. Rather, it “negates the importance of Israel for Jewish continuity and as a refuge and haven for Jews who need one.”

While ignoring Israel’s successes in integrating multiple waves of multi-ethnic and multi-racial refugees, in addition to many efforts to create peace with the Palestinians, the Crimson imagines Israel as a malevolent nation and casts Zionism as “an illegitimate and oppressive movement.”

The paper’s editorial board also expressed support to the Harvard College Palestine Solidarity Committee, which recently displayed a controversial “Wall of Resistance” art installation on the campus that equated Zionism with racism and white supremacy.

The faculty members urged the Crimson editorial board to reach out to Jewish peers and begin repairing the damage caused by the “divisive” editorial, an AEN news release stated on May 9, “and to properly educate themselves about Jewish identity Israel and the multifaceted nature of contemporary anti-Semitism.”

“We at Harvard have a responsibility to recognize the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to acknowledge the lived experiences, traumas, hopes and dreams of all peoples impacted by it,” concluded the signees. 

“The mission of our great university is to rigorously interrogate and debate complex problems. We are at our best when we consider and evaluate competing perspectives, focus on facts, acknowledge nuances and avoid simplistic, monocausal explanations.”

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