If everyone admitted to a college is invited to campus, but Jewish students are made to feel less welcome, is the campus still everyone's home? I never wondered about this as an undergraduate. But I absolutely did this week, after reading that Harvard's Undergraduate Council (UC) funded Israeli Apartheid Week on campus.
When I arrived in Cambridge in the fall of 1996, Harvard felt like the Upper West Side's northern outpost. That is, it was very culturally Jewish — Seinfeldian, if you like. Obviously, most students weren't Jewish, but there was a decent-sized Jewish minority, and we were well integrated into campus life. It was an incredibly comfortable place for someone like me who was actively involved with the campus Hillel and kept kosher. But I'm not so sure I'd feel identically if I were a student there now.
This year doesn't mark Harvard's first IAW, but it appears to be the first one that's received funding from the student government. And that seems like a notable change.
The UC, which is supposed to represent all Harvard undergraduates, recently voted 21-13-4 to grant $2,050 — serious money for student groups, and more than the UC's typical grant — to fund the Palestine Solidarity Committee's Israeli Apartheid Week. It is worth noting that part of the UC's budget is funded by student activity fees charged to all enrolling students. UC Finance Committee Chair Noah Harris confirmed via email that "the rest [of the budget] comes from the administration to be allocated at our discretion."
Discretion is crucial, because students are clearly split on whether IAW is an appropriate student government expenditure. One Hillel-affiliated student, Ilan Goldberg, emailed, "The grant was approved specifically because it relates to race relations . . . rather than because it works to improve race relations." Now, it's not my money, but if it were, I know I'd certainly prefer the latter to be the standard.
IAW has a history of not promoting open, honest, or nuanced conversation. It's about slandering democratic Israel by comparing it to apartheid South Africa, while promoting the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement on American college campuses. David Brog, executive director of the Maccabee Task Force, which fights rising anti-Semitism on American college campuses, told The Federalist, "Israel Apartheid Week clearly crosses the line from the legitimate criticism of Israel into the anti-Semitic demonization of Israel."
The substance at the core of IAW is vitriolic. CAMERA's campus coordinators Liel Asulin and Zac Schildcrout attended multiple IAW events at Harvard over the past week, and Asulin told The Federalist, "Speakers such as Marc Lamont Hill and slam poet Remi Kanazi's calls to end Israel as the Jewish State were met with enthusiasm and applause." Schildcrout added "During the panel with Marc Lamont Hill, the moderator, Yamila Hussein, conflated Zionism with white supremacy."
IAW also includes a publicly displayed Wall of Resistance. Undergraduate Benjamin Rabinowitz emailed that the wall's unveiling event included "hateful tropes like 'Zionism is white supremacy' [which] have been quite concerning to many Jewish students."
This represents the crux of the issue. It's not whether students should be allowed to criticize Israel's government or specific government policies they find offensive; that's protected speech. It's that IAW has a tendency to stigmatize American Jews and other Israel supporters on college campuses.
Consider the restrained statement issued by student Rebecca Thau, on behalf of Harvard Hillel's undergraduate steering committee. It's worth reading the whole letter, but the most urgent passage may be this one: "The contentious nature of yesterday's UC meeting underscores what we see as the troubling consequences of Israeli Apartheid Week itself: vilifying students for their commitments and even their heritages."
Harvard administrators should pay heed. While undergraduates come and go, they remain and help set the tone on campus. This uncivil behavior may still be unusual for Harvard — both Goldberg and Rabinowitz reported that most students seemed unaware of IAW — but it echoes a disturbing nationwide pattern.
Last August, the AMCHA Initiative, which combats campus anti-Semitism, released a report on the subject. The organization found that "although classic anti-Semitic incidents outnumbered Israel-related incidents three to one, less than 25% of classic incidents demonstrated intent to harm, whereas 94% of Israel-related incidents did."
AMCHA Initiative director Tammi Rossman-Benjamin told The Federalist that "at schools where there is anti-Zionist rhetoric, those schools are three times more likely to have acts of anti-Jewish activity, things that go beyond speech about Israel." Rossman-Benjamin explained, "That speech leads students to turn on supporters of Israel on campus, whether it's verbal denigration or vandalizing fliers or their dorm rooms, pushing or harassing them."
That's not behavior that Harvard — or any university — should tolerate. All admitted students should feel welcome on campus, regardless of the week's name. For the sake of their Jewish students, it's important that campus leaders and administrators do all they can to fight anti-Semitism, even, and perhaps especially, when it cloaks itself as some sort of righteous anti-Zionism. Because that's not principle. It's just another form of hatred.
Melissa Langsam Braunstein, a former U.S. Department of State speechwriter, is an independent writer in Washington DC and a senior contributor to The Federalist. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, National Review Online, and RealClearPolitics, among others. She has appeared on EWTN and WMAL. Melissa shares all of her writing on her website and tweets as @slowhoneybee.