Harvard condemns student and faculty groups for posting antisemitic cartoon

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Harvard University condemned what it called a “flagrantly antisemitic cartoon” that an undergraduate group posted on social media over the weekend. It also appeared on the Instagram account of Harvard Faculty and Staff for Justice in Palestine.

Copied from a newsletter published by students in the U.S. Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, the image features a Black man and an Arab man with nooses around their necks, held by a hand imprinted with the Star of David that has a dollar sign in the middle of the star.

The image was removed and the student and faculty groups apologized, but the post prompted a storm of criticism that Harvard isn’t doing enough to protect its Jewish community.

“Perpetuating vile and hateful antisemitic tropes, or otherwise engaging in inflammatory rhetoric or sharing images that demean people on the basis of their identity, is precisely the opposite of what this moment demands of us,” Alan Garber, Harvard’s interim president, said in a letter Monday to the school community.

In a statement on Tuesday, the Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee and the African American Resistance Organization took responsibility for what they acknowledged is a “harmful antisemitic trope.” The image was copied from a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee newsletter and included in an infographic urging Black and Arab people to unite in protest of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

“The inclusion of the offensive caricature was an unprompted, painful error — a combination of ignorance and inadequate oversight,” the student groups’ statement said. “It never should have been published to begin with. We wholeheartedly apologize for the immense harm we caused.”

The faculty and staff group also apologized after the infographic also appeared on its Instagram story, insisting that they stand against all forms of hate and bigotry, including antisemitism.

“We removed the content as soon as it came to our attention,” the faculty and staff group wrote. “We apologize for the hurt these images have caused and do not condone them in any way. "

Garber said the university is reviewing the matter to determine exactly who was responsible and “what further steps are warranted.”

“As members of an academic community, we can and we will disagree, sometimes vehemently, on matters of public concern and controversy, including hotly contested issues relating to the war in Israel and Gaza, and the longstanding Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Garber continued. “But it is grossly irresponsible and profoundly offensive when that disagreement devolves into forms of expression that demonize individuals because of their religion, race, nationality, or other aspects of their identity.”

Shabbos Kestenbaum, who joined a lawsuit filed by a group of Jewish students accusing Harvard of failing to keep them safe, reacted on X, formerly known as Twitter. “With Professors like these, it’s easy to see why we Jewish students don’t feel safe in class,” he tweeted.

The latest controversy comes as Harvard works to navigate the campus response to the Israel-Hamas war and comes after the resignation in January of its president Claudine Gay, who faced a backlash over her congressional testimony on antisemitism as well as plagiarism accusations.

It has since announced separate task forces to combat antisemitism and Islamophobia and worked to provide documents to a congressional committee investigating antisemitism. On Friday, the House Education & the Workforce Committee announced it was serving several Harvard officials, including Garber, with a subpoena for failing to “produce priority documents.”

“I am extremely disappointed in the path that Harvard has chosen to take in the Committee’s investigation,” the committee chairwoman, Rep. Virginia Foxx, a Republican from North Carolina, said in a statement. She acknowledged that Harvard has produced thousands of pages of documents, but complained that more than 40% were already public. “Quality — not quantity — is the Committee’s concern.”

Harvard responded that it has “provided fulsome and good faith responses” and said the supboenas were unwarranted. It promised to continue cooperating, while also “protecting the legitimate privacy, safety and security concerns of our community.”

The Oct. 7 Hamas attacks killed 1,200 people in Israel, mainly civilians, and abducted around 250 others. Roughly 130 hostages have yet to be recovered. Israel’s military response has killed more than 29,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health authorities, and has laid waste to most of the densely populated Gaza Strip.

The war’s fallout has roiled U.S. campuses and reignited a debate over free speech. College leaders have struggled to define where political speech crosses into harassment and discrimination, with both Jewish and Arab students calling on schools to do more to protect them.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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