Harvard was unresponsive to antisemitism, House committee finds

May 16, 2024

Harvard University was slow to react to a wave of hostility against Jewish students last fall and ignored recommendations from an advisory group it created to address rising antisemitism, according to a report set to be released on Thursday, May 16, by the Republican-led House Committee on Education and the Workforce, reports The Wall Street Journal.

“Former President Gay and Harvard’s leadership propped up the university’s Antisemitism Advisory Group all for show,” said committee chair Representative Virginia Foxx (R.-North Carolina), in a statement.

The committee’s investigation began several months after the October 7, 2023, attack by Hamas on Israel, in which about 1,200 Israelis were killed.

Shortly after the attack, the Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee published a statement—cosigned by more than 30 other Harvard student organizations—saying they held “the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence.”

That letter, in conjunction with a delayed condemnation of Hamas by Harvard’s then-President Claudine Gay, generated broad criticism by prominent members of the Jewish community at Harvard and beyond.

Harvard did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Below are the main takeaways from the committee’s report, which was based largely on interviews and subpoenaed internal university communications.

The report found that the school’s administration failed to properly investigate individual acts of antisemitic harassment after October 7.

One senior undergraduate wearing a yarmulke was spat on, according to the report. Another Jewish student was followed back to her dormitory while a tutor screamed at her. Threats on a social-media chatboard available only to those with Harvard emails included calls to ‘gas all the Jews’ and ‘let em cook,’ the report said. Those comments drew 25 net upvotes.

Rules to prevent this sort of behavior fell under antibullying harassment policies, which are under the purview of the school’s Office of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging. The office didn’t respond to complaints, the report said.

In late October, Gay announced the formation of the eight-member antisemitism advisory group comprising Harvard faculty, alumni, and a student representative. Its job, she said, was to “develop a robust strategy for confronting antisemitism on campus.”

Feeling that their complaints weren’t being addressed by the university, some Jewish students approached individual members of the advisory group, which included Dara Horn, an alumnus, novelist, and former visiting lecturer of Jewish Studies at Harvard. The students asked why the administration wasn’t responding to their complaints of antisemitic harassment.

“Jewish students don’t feel like we’re taking this seriously,” Horn said, according to the report.

The report paints a picture of an overwhelmed and indecisive administration, which failed to apply university rules to protesters engaged in antisemitic behavior.

Members of the advisory group demanded a series of actions, including that the school acknowledge the chants “from the river to the sea” and “intifada” are antisemitic calls for Israel’s elimination through violence. The advisory group also asked the school to immediately ban masked protests and prohibit teaching staff from pressuring students to engage in political activism. When they felt the administration was failing to act, five members threatened to resign.

Gay responded by saying a mass resignation would be “explosive and would make things even more volatile and unsafe.” On November 9, she issued a statement condemning the protesters’ chants of “from the river to the sea” and pledged to address some of the concerns but members remained frustrated, the report said.

The advisory group was upset that Gay didn’t consult with it before her congressional hearing or acknowledge in her testimony that antisemitism at Harvard was pervasive.

Instead, according to the advisory group, Gay wrongly left the impression that the bulk of the problems revolved around public protests.

“That did not capture the extent to which this was a pervasive, I would say, systemic problem on campus,” Horn said in an interview with the committee. “I felt that her testimony did not acknowledge that, and that was disappointing to me and to others on the committee.”

Two days after her congressional hearing, advisory board member Rabbi David Wolpe resigned, writing: “Both events on campus and the painfully inadequate testimony reinforced the idea that I cannot make the sort of difference I had hoped.”

Because the advisory group felt some in the Harvard community and beyond were denying that antisemitic harassment on campus was a widespread problem, it asked the school to reveal the number of reports it had received related to antisemitism.

The school paid lip service to this idea, but never publicized either the reports of harassment or any disciplinary action taken, the report said.

The advisory group also made some more recommendations, which the report said the university has yet to take up. They include:

  • Creating a zero-tolerance policy for classroom disruptions;
  • Reviewing the academic rigor of classes that the group views as having antisemitic content; and
  • Increasing intellectual diversity on campus and investigating the potential influence of “dark money” from Iran, Qatar, and associates of terrorist groups on campus.

The report also said that the advisory group has asked the school to review the office of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging to understand why it was ill-equipped to address issues of exclusion and harassment of Jewish and Israeli students and to identify overhaul approaches to inclusion and diversity that may have inadvertently encouraged antisemitism.

Research contact: @WSJ