The letter comes amidst increasing campus tensions due to the conflict in Israel and Gaza, coupled with growing demands from university donors for a stronger stance against antisemitism.Last Thursday, President Gay publicly condemned the aforementioned slogan and announced Harvard’s plans to collaborate with a newly established antisemitism advisory group to implement training for university affiliates.
As per a report in the Harvard Crimson, among the signatories of the letter are notable figures such as former Lowell House Faculty Dean Diana L Eck, Philosophy Department Chair Bernhard Nickel, and History professor Sugata Bose, who previously served in India’s parliament.
The letter highlights that the pro-Palestine phrase has a “long and complicated history.” It argues that labeling the phrase as inherently implying “removalism or even eliminationism” is both “imprudent as a matter of university policy and badly misjudged as an act of moral leadership.”
The faculty expressed their “profound dismay” at Gay’s statement, voicing concerns over its implications for academic freedom. They contend that the university’s commitment to intellectual freedom and open dialogue is being overshadowed by a new educational model where meanings of terms are dictated from above, as indicated by the advisory committee’s ongoing work.
The letter emphasizes that criticism of Israel should not automatically be deemed antisemitic. Jason A. Newton, a university spokesperson, confirmed the receipt of the letter by president Gay but declined to comment further.
The faculty urged president Gay to instruct the advisory group to clearly define antisemitism to the university community before recommending any policies that could affect freedom of thought and expression on campus.
The letter also refers to comments made by Harvard Chabad president Rabbi Hirschy Zarchi, who criticized the Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee for a statement that held Israel responsible for the initial attack, accusing them of “supporting terrorism.” The faculty expressed concern that the current delineation of acceptable campus expression is “dangerously one-sided.”
In his email, Rabbi Zarchi urged Harvard to follow the precedent set by Columbia University and Brandeis University in de-recognizing pro-Palestine student groups. However, the faculty letter advocates against any disciplinary action towards the Palestine Solidarity Committee.
Furthermore, the faculty requested that President Gay resist premature sanctions against students and employees based on their political activities without specific allegations of wrongdoing. They also called for the reversal of any sanctions already imposed on affiliates, pending a thorough investigation.