The president of Harvard University unveiled a new advisory board tasked with dealing with on-campus antisemitism.
While speaking at a Harvard Hillel Shabbat dinner during the school’s Family Weekend, President Claudine Gay said “antisemitism has a very long and shameful history at Harvard.”
“The past few weeks have been full of darkness,” said Gay, according to a transcript of her speech. “Here in the U.S., we are witnessing a surge in anti-Jewish incidents and rhetoric across the nation — and on our own campus. The ancient specter of antisemitism, that persistent and corrosive hatred, has returned with renewed force.”
“As we grapple with this resurgence of bigotry, I want to make one thing absolutely clear: Antisemitism has no place at Harvard,” she added.
Gay said the university has done “too little” to confront antisemitism and that, to “begin the vital work of eradicating” such views from the community, her office created the new advisory board. Gay said the members’ “wisdom, experience, and counsel” would guide the university forward.
“These trusted voices include faculty, staff, alumni, and religious leaders from the Jewish community, and some of them are here tonight,” the university president said. “I am enormously grateful for their conviction and generous spirit, and for the hope and high expectations for Harvard.”
Over 200 Jewish students and their families attended the event, which came several weeks after 33 Harvard student groups co-signed a letter that blamed Israel for the outbreak of violence after more than 1,000 people died as a result of the Hamas-led terrorist attack on Oct. 7.
The letter, written by the Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee, said the attacks “did not occur in a vacuum.”
“The apartheid regime is the only one to blame. Israeli violence has structured every aspect of Palestinian existence for 75 years,” said the letter.
The letter was widely denounced and prompted some major donors to threaten to withhold promised donations to the Ivy League school.
“The silence from Harvard’s leadership, so far, coupled with a vocal and widely reported student groups’ statement blaming Israel solely, has allowed Harvard to appear at best neutral towards acts of terror against the Jewish state of Israel,” wrote Larry Summers, a former president of Harvard and a former U.S. Treasury secretary, per the BBC.
Business Insider labeled Harvard the “poster child for American culture wars,” observing that the letter revealed the “intergenerational divide on the Israel-Hamas war.”
“The flare-up reflects the tension for elite colleges as a bastion for radical campus politics, and their reliance on wealthy, powerful alumni who might hold different views,” wrote the outlet.
Gay and the university both released statements condemning the terrorist attack in response as the controversy gained national attention.
Harvard Hillel denounced the Harvard Palestine Solidarity Groups.
“Harvard Hillel is deeply pained that instead of finding solace and support among our Harvard community in the days following the bloodiest massacre of Jews since the Holocaust, we encountered further hatred and anti-Semitism here in Cambridge,” the group wrote in a statement.
The group also praised Gay for the formation of the advisory group and her “commitment to confront anti-Semitism at Harvard.”
“President Gay understands that antisemitism remains a reality at Harvard. Jewish students, faculty, and staff have experienced hateful speech, verbal and physical threats, and false accusations in recent days,” wrote the Jewish student group. “Friday’s speech represents a promising first step in a process that will undoubtedly take significant effort and a united front from our Harvard community, and we look forward to working with President Gay and the university administration with a common resolve to tackle Harvard’s antisemitism problem.”