Over 100 Harvard faculty members signed a letter to the university president declaring that labeling Israel an “apartheid state” and accusing the country of committing genocide against Palestinians should not automatically be antisemitism.
The letter, published on Medium.com on Tuesday, accused Harvard University President Claudine Gay of enforcing a “one-sided” debate about Israel by preventing students and faculty from criticizing the Jewish state.
Harvard neglected to swiftly respond to The Christian Post’s request for comment.” As Harvard faculty, the pressure from donors and alumni has astonished us—even some on this campus—to silence faculty, students, and staff critical of the actions of the State of Israel,” the document stated. “It is important to acknowledge the patronizing tone and format of much of the criticism you have received, as well as the outright racism contained in some of it.”
The faculty members wrote the letter in response to Gay’s Nov. 9 directive, titled “Combating Antisemitism,” which announced the plan to implement a program intended to educate Harvard students and staff about antisemitism.
In the directive, Gay condemned the phrase “from the river to the sea,” noting that the phrase calls for the eradication of Jews and Israel and is harmful to the Jewish community.
In their letter, the faculty members expressed understanding that Gay would want to highlight the importance of language following Hamas’ Oct. 7 assault against civilians in Israel that killed over 1,200 people. The terrorist group has called for the murder of the Jewish people, and Hamas members have bragged about the Jews they killed on Oct. 7.
While the faculty agreed that specific languages merit condemnation, they argued that it is not anti-Semitic to criticize the Israeli government or to compare it to “ethnos-nationalist” governments, like dictator Robert Mugabe’s government in Zimbabwe.
“The letter stated one cannot consider arguments that characterize Israel as an ‘apartheid’ state or its recent actions as ‘ethnic cleansing’ or even ‘genocide’ automatically antisemitic, regardless of whether one concurs with such arguments.
The letter asserts that the phrase “from the river to the sea, Palestine must be free” is a matter of debate, stating that the history behind the slogan is “complicated.”
“Its interpretation deserves, and is receiving, sustained and ongoing inquiry and debate,” the letter reads.
The faculty also cited numbers from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Health Ministry to imply that Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinians. According to the Gaza Health Ministry, over 11,000 people have been killed in Gaza since Israel launched retaliatory airstrikes and a ground invasion seeking to eradicate Hamas. This terrorist group has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007.
Days before beginning its ground invasion, Israel urged over 1 million civilians in northern Gaza to flee to the south. Israel maintains it may defend its citizens from the threat of Hamas and is doing all it can to prevent civilian casualties. Israel has accused Hamas of using civilians as human shields.
The letter concluded with a list of steps for the Harvard president to support “intellectual freedom” at the university, including the creation of “an advisory group on Islamophobia and anti-Palestinian and anti-Arab racism.”
The faculty members requested Gay Resist calls to suspend the Palestine Solidarity Committee for releasing a statement holding Israel responsible for the violence committed against it last month.
Several student groups that signed onto the letter—including Amnesty International at Harvard, Harvard College Act on a Dream, and the Harvard Undergraduate Nepali Student Association—later withdrew their signatures.
A spokesperson for Act on a Dream claimed that its board members were unaware that the organization had signed the letter, which does not reflect AOD’s views on the situation in Israel.
On Oct. 10, Gay released a statement condemning Hamas and its terrorist actions against Israel. She also clarified that the views of students or student groups do not speak for the university.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish advocacy group, the phrase “from the river to the sea” calls for Palestine to extend from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, which would mean the elimination of Israel.
We often hear the phrase at anti-Israel rallies, as explained by the ADF, and calls for the removal of Jews from their ancestral homeland.
“Usage of this phrase has the effect of making members of the Jewish and pro-Israel communities feel unsafe and ostracized,” the ADF stated.
“It is important to note that demanding justice for Palestinians or calling for a Palestinian state should not mean, as this hateful phrase posits, denying the right of the State of Israel to exist.”
The Harvard faculty letter contends that it is mistaken to single out the phrase as “implying removalist or even eliminationism” when “over a million Palestinians have been forced from their homes and over ten thousand civilians, including four thousand children, have been slain in Gaza.”