The Harvard Political Review is a nonpartisan political review and a platform for student writing at Harvard. Below is a letter from the Harvard Palestine Solidarity Committee. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the writers and not of the magazine.
“As the daughter of a Rabbi who previously fought in the Israeli military, I am deeply offended that The Crimson keeps publishing pieces that label our PSC activism on campus as anti-Semitic. This is defamatory, and they should be ashamed of themselves.” -Hannah Schafer, MPP ‘14
As members of the Harvard Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC), we are disheartened by what appears to be The Crimson’s silencing of Palestinian voices. In the past year, our experiences have been so negative that many Palestinian students and our allies feel alienated by this publication. Our five most recent episodes with the Crimson highlight this unfortunate reality.
In March 2012, PSC helped organize the One State Conference at the Harvard Kennedy School, which was co-sponsored by the Office of the Provost, the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, and the Carr Center for Human Rights. Half of our organizers and speakers were Jewish and/or Israeli, including Elisha Baskin (the daughter of Gershon Baskin, a well-known Israeli politician) as a main organizer and Professors Ilan Pappe (the renowned Israeli historian) and Rabbi Brant Rosen (Rabbi of Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston, Illinois) as key speakers.
We were appalled that The Crimson published a piece labeling the conference as “deeply wrong” before the conference had even taken place. For a member of the Board to write an op-ed expressing criticism would have been one thing, but for this to be a formal and collective piece on behalf of their staff is another. The piece’s assertion that the conference “utterly fails” to address concerns such as Jewish self-determination was absurd. Many speakers addressed this comprehensively, proposing a binational state that guarantees the right to self-determination for both the Jewish and Palestinian peoples. This Crimson piece even took the position that “only the two state solution protects and respects the national aspirations of both Jews and Palestinians.” In fact, we made sure that some speakers were two state supporters. Had The Crimson Board actually bothered to attend the conference, they could have heard the debates and arguments before publishing a piece based on flawed assumptions and judgments.
Imagine if during apartheid South Africa a group of black and white South African students at Harvard came together to organize an academic conference to intellectually explore the possibilities of establishing a democratic and binational state rather than divide the territory into separate states for blacks and whites. Then, imagine The Crimson Board publishing a piece criticizing the conference just because it is inviting dialogue on the merits of one versus two states and therefore not directly in line with the polemics of Crimson Board members.
Then, in October 2012, The Crimson put two Palestinian students through a nightmare of one week of back and forth exchanges before finally publishing an op-ed on our behalf. The amount of editing that went into an op-ed was shocking and the requests for references of each and every fact and assertion of ours was at a level that is not expected of other student groups. For instance, we were pressured to omit a reference to the Israeli occupation being illegal under international law. We pushed back by establishing that this was not a controversial claim; rather, there is a global consensus affirming this fact, and we expressed that we did not appreciate The Crimson’s attempt to censor us. As a result of our persistence, the op-ed was finally posted online, though The Crimson took it down not once, but twice, before finally letting it stand and be published for circulation.
In February 2013, a Crimson editorial writer published an op-ed targeting PSC and accusing us of having “anti-Semitism” in our midst merely because of our support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. This is a typical strategy employed by some Zionists to silence any criticism of Israeli state policies by putting forward the charge of anti-Semitism. In fact, we and the BDS movement’s leadership unequivocally condemn all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism. BDS is aimed at Israeli institutions—not individuals—complicit in military occupation and apartheid, and it is a nonviolent movement grounded in international law and inspired by the South African boycott. There are very important efforts worldwide to combat anti-Semitism. Yet, it is morally reprehensible to abuse such efforts in support of institutions violating Palestinian human rights. Furthermore, BDS has been endorsed by leading Jewish and Israeli individuals and organizations such as Naomi Klein, Judith Butler, Sarah Schulman, Jewish Voice for Peace, and Boycott from Within. Our friends at the Harvard College Progressive Jewish Alliance have launched an Open Hillel campaign to reverse the ban on discussions of BDS at the Harvard Hillel.
The annual Israeli Apartheid Week, which is held on college campuses across the U.S. and around the world, is held this month. PSC organizes programming for this, such as lectures and film screenings here at Harvard. On Tuesday, March 5, The Crimson Board was convening a meeting in which they were to discuss the publication of another staff piece criticizing PSC for our activism yet again. This time it was because they did not agree with our use of apartheid to compare South Africa and Israel. We immediately sent them a three-page letter outlining that it is perfectly reasonable to raise the facts of this analogy given the reality on the ground. We respectfully urged them not to proceed with such a piece that would target us so unreasonably. We also included citations from world leaders, who also use the apartheid term such as prominent Israeli officials, the former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, and the first African-American Pulitzer Prize winner and civil rights activist Alice Walker.
We asked that the Board acknowledge receipt of our letter and consider our request to understand our rationale. Yet, we never received any form of acknowledgement. In fact, the Board not only went ahead and published the staff piece chastising us for using the apartheid analogy, they decided to prohibit a dissenting article from being published, an otherwise common practice when the staff takes an ideological position on a controversial issue.
The PSC then decided that we would submit an op-ed to The Crimson articulating our thoughtful reasoning and including official evidence grounded in international law that Israel is committing the crime of apartheid against the Palestinian population, yet they have not been willing to publish this piece. We lobbied The Crimson for multiple days, including drawing their attention to The Tufts Daily publishing four pieces by members of their Students for Justice in Palestine as part of Israeli Apartheid Week (March 4, March 5, March 6, and March 7). The Tufts Daily also covered their mock Israeli checkpoint. We were saddened to see that our counterparts at Tufts were treated with respect by their campus newspaper whereas we could not even get one op-ed published at our home university.
Instead, on March 9, the Crimson published a fourth piece attacking the PSC without allowing us to respond. This op-ed reproduces the outrageous charge of anti-Semitism against us, neglecting the voices and experiences of the Jewish members our group. As one student, Hannah Schafer, MPP ‘14, states, “As the daughter of a Rabbi who previously fought in the Israeli military, I am deeply offended that the Crimson keeps publishing pieces that label our PSC activism on campus as anti-Semitic. This is defamatory and they should be ashamed of themselves.”
Given that Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. aid in the world and U.S. support for Israel has been unwavering for years, our voices are already marginalized at Harvard. By not allowing us to respond to the numerous mischaracterizations that have been leveled against us by the Editorial Board and other students, we wonder if The Crimson Board is attempting to contribute to the stigmatization of our solidarity community on campus. We have had positive working relationships with past Crimson Boards, and we do not appreciate the current attempts to police how we articulate our struggle and the oppression we face. We look forward to reestablishing a relationship with The Crimson where Palestinian students and those committed to Palestinian human rights are treated as equals.
Lena Awwad ’13 is a Neurobiology concentrator in Winthrop House. Giacomo Bagarella ’13 is a Government concentrator in Currier House. Asmaa Rimawi ’14 is a Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations concentrator in Lowell House. Hannah Schafer ’14 is an MPP candidate at the Harvard Kennedy School.