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Free Speech Hypocrisy
Harvard cites "Free Expression" in Refusing to Condemn Student Apologists for Terror
There was widespread outrage last week when 34 student organizations at Harvard singed a public letter that said “the Israeli regime [is] entirely responsible for all unfolding violence. . . the apartheid regime is the only one to blame." It called on Harvard to stop “the annihilation of Palestinians.”
That letter excused Hamas by blaming Israel for the murder of Israelis. It was an egregious — but unfortunately not atypical — reaction among university students whose misinformed world views are steeped in pseudo-colonizer history that sees everything only in terms of victimhood and color. Most who signed the letter were Muslim and Palestinian support organizations, but there were also ideological allies that included Harvard’s Amnesty International, Jews for Liberation, and the African American Resistance Organization.1
The Anti-Defamation League tweeted “Harvard must disavow or be seen as complicit in this antisemitism that should have no place on campus.”
That seemed a low bar. The one thing that I thought everyone could agree on was a clear and unequivocal condemnation of the slaughter in Israel. Hamas had struck at Israel with the goal of killing as many Jews as possible. The barbarous attack was one that would have made the World War II Nazi death squads proud (the toll, 1,300 Israelis, the equivalent of 43,000 dead Americans, was the largest single day murder of Jews since the Holocaust).
Harvard, I thought, would quickly condemn the student groups that excused brutal murder and kidnapping of innocent civilians. Civilized people had stepped in after prior terror attacks to put to shame those who blamed the victims for their own deaths. There is often some fringe, radical political class that tries to excuse terrorists. What they did was terrible, but they are not to blame because what was done to them over years, decades, centuries, has forced them to do it. That is the basic illogic.
It was evident after 9/11, some questioned if the U.S. military involvement in the Middle East had sparked the ire of the 19 hijackers. Even when ISIS butchers were filming their decapitations of kneeling and bound victims, there were those who made excuses.
The most outrageous apologists for terror, I thought, had surfaced in 2015 after two heavily armed French Muslim terrorists killed a dozen people and wounded another eleven at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a Paris-based satirical weekly. Charlie Hebdo had published cartoons and nude caricatures of the prophet Muhammad. Terror apologists charged it had been irresponsible to make fun of Muhammad. Didn’t Charlie Hebdo know that a death sentence had been issued on novelist Salman Rushdie for writing about Muhammad in a novel? Charlie Hebdo had been an equal opportunity offender, creating offensive cartoons about Jews and Christians; only Muslims, however, wanted to kill them for it.
Other apologists took a 30,000-foot view in excusing those terrorists. They had only killed in outrage over France’s military intervention against ISIS. Maybe the spark for the terror was France’s poor treatment of generations of young Muslims from former French colonies. Could it have been sparked by France allying itself with America in the Western invasion of Muslim Iraq?
Those who attempt to find excuses for terrorists have always struck me as particularly repulsive.
So, what did Harvard do?
Its president, Claudine Gay, issued a strikingly tone-deaf statement within hours. Co-signed with 17 deans, it made no mention of the student letter blaming Israel for the murder of Israelis. While Gay said that the school was "heartbroken by the death and destruction unleashed by the attack by Hamas that targeted citizens in Israel this weekend . . . . [W]e want to emphasize our commitment to fostering an environment of dialogue and empathy, appealing to one another’s thoughtfulness and goodwill….”
The failure to address, much less to condemn, prompted furious backlash from prominent alumni. Bill Clinton’s former Treasury Secretary, Larry Summers, himself a former Harvard president, said, “I am sickened…by the silence from Harvard’s leadership…[it] has allowed Harvard to appear at best neutral towards acts of terror against the Jewish state of Israel.”
Seven Republican graduates in Congress sent a scathing letter in which they demanded the school “condemn it [the student letter] publicly and clarify that Harvard University strongly opposes this dangerous antisemitism.”
Billionaire hedge fund CEO Bill Ackman, joined by the CEOs of health tech startup EasyHealth, shopping club FabFitFun, the restaurant chain Sweetgreen, and Dovehill Capital Management, asked that the names of the students who signed the letter be made public so the CEOs might not inadvertently hire any of them.
The public pushback prompted a second statement from Harvard’s president.
“As the events of recent days continue to reverberate,” wrote Gay, “let there be no doubt that I condemn the terrorist atrocities perpetrated by Hamas. Such inhumanity is abhorrent, whatever one’s individual views of the origins of longstanding conflicts in the region.”
As for the student letter blaming Israel for the slaughter, Gay said, “no student group . . . speaks for Harvard University or its leadership.”
What was missing was any condemnation of the students conflating victim and perpetrator. Why couldn’t Harvard get it right?
More than 350 faculty members wrote an open letter that the administration's response "fell short" and the student letter should be called out for what it was, "nothing less than condoning the mass murder."
"Why can’t we find anything approaching the moral clarity of Harvard statements after George Floyd's death or Russia's invasion of Ukraine when terrorists kill, rape and take hostage hundreds of Israelis attending a music festival?” asked Larry Summers.
Israeli billionaire business titan, Idan Ofer, and his wife Batia, quit the executive board of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in protest of how university leaders responded to Hamas' terror attacks on Israel.
"Unfortunately, our faith in the University's leadership has been broken and we cannot in good faith continue to support Harvard and its committees," the couple said. “Our decision” to resign “has been precipitated by the lack of clear evidence of support from the University's leadership for the people of Israel following the tragic events of the past week, coupled with their apparent unwillingness to recognize Hamas for what it is, a terrorist organization.”
The school tried a third time to get it right, this time in a video posted last Thursday. Gay said, “People have asked me where we stand. So let me be clear. Our university rejects terrorism. That includes the barbaric atrocities perpetrated by Hamas. Our university rejects hate.”
Gay again did not refer to the student groups that signed the “blame Israel” letter. She instead emphasized that Harvard “embraces a commitment to free expression. . . . That commitment extends even to views that many of us find objectionable, even outrageous. We do not punish or sanction people for expressing such views, but that is a far cry from endorsing them.”
That is not true.
Harvard punishes or sanctions people regularly for expressing views that it finds objectionable. Students and faculty have been punished or sanctioned at different times for everything from suggesting that “all lives matter” after the murder of George Floyd or for having the temerity to suggest there were only two biological sexes. Harvard administrators enforce a laundry list of progressive issues on which students and faculty must move in lock step less they be subject to discipline or ostracism.
Only last month, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression and College Pulse (FIRE) ranked Harvard as the worst university in the country when it came to free speech. FIRE, co-founded by psychologist Jonathan Haidt, put Harvard last out of 248 colleges in a survey of more than 55,000 students across the United States. Harvard was the only school that got an “Abysmal” rating.
Harvard’s hypocrisy is the pretense that “free expression” is the reason it has not condemned the student organizations that apologized for terror. Would it fail, for instance, to punish student organizations that blamed African-Americans when a racist shooter killed nine worshippers at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist church in 2015? There should be no doubt that the administration would and should denounce such odious statements.
The Harvard administration cannot even bring itself to condemn the pro-Palestinian student demonstrators who wear patches or carry signs with the symbol of a paraglider, a way of paying tribute to the terrorists who swept in and killed 260 young people at a dance rave. Would Harvard allow students to display nooses, a symbol of the worst murders by the KKK and other hate groups of American blacks? Of course not. But the school does not have the moral courage to apply the same standard to the massacre of Israelis.
Harvard once had a reputation for producing some of the country’s brightest and most promising students, men and women who would go on to be leaders in business and government and enrich the social fabric of the nation. Those days seem gone for the moment. Harvard’s crisis is a self-inflicted wound. Its refusal to call out terror apologists is simply the latest in a long series of moral failures that have cast a long shadow over a once great school.
Thirty-four organizations signed the original letter. A handful have since retracted their support.
African American Resistance Organization; Bengali Association of Students at Harvard College; Act on a Dream; Arab Medical and Dental Student Association; Chan Muslim Student Association; Chan Students for Health Equity and Justice in Palestine; Pakistan Student Association; Divinity School Muslim Association; Middle Eastern and North African Law Student Association; Graduate School of Education Islamic Society; Graduate Students for Palestine; Islamic Society; Law School Justice for Palestine; Divinity School Students for Justice in Palestine; Jews for Liberation; Kennedy School Bangladesh Caucus; Kennedy School Muslim Caucus; Kennedy School Muslim Women's Caucus; Kennedy School Palestine Caucus; Muslim Law School Association; Pakistan Forum; Prison Divest Coalition; South Asian Law Students Association; South Asians for Forward-Thinking Advocacy and Research; TPS Coalition (unionized immigrant workers); Undergraduate Arab Women's Collective; Undergraduate Ghungroo; Undergraduate Muslim Women's Medical Alliance; Undergraduate Nepali Students Association; Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee; Middle East and North African Graduate School of Design Student Society; Neighbor Program Cambridge; Sikhs and Companions of Harvard Undergraduates Society of Arab Students; Amnesty International at Harvard.