Fired for cause, with one exception
Harvard President Claudine Gay resigned last week, for good reasons. Foremost was her inability to muster a straightforward answer when asked in Congress whether Harvard should condemn calls for the genocide of the Jewish people.
There are other good reasons and one glaring exception. First the reasons. Over her career, she indulged, if not encouraged, the left-wing cancel culture at Harvard. On her watch, the college’s free-speech ranking dropped to last place among 248 colleges surveyed. Her resume of scholarly research is short and, apparently, compromised by plagiarism.
Now the exception. She has been attacked most vociferously — and wrongly — for indulging alleged antisemitism on campus. Of this charge, she is not guilty; she was simply incompetent in her inability to defend the free speech rights of pro-Palestinian students and distinguish them from antisemitism.
Many of her detractors have distorted and twisted pro-Palestinian advocacy into antisemitism, beginning with mischaracterization of the pro-Palestinian statement by a coalition of 33 Harvard student organizations posted online on Oct. 7. While the statement was jarring in blaming Israel, the victim, as the Hamas attack unfolded, it was not antisemitic.
First, the statement was posted before the full barbarity of the Hamas attack became widely known. So, the statement did not endorse barbarity. In fact, it did not speak to the character of the attack at all.
Second, nowhere in the statement was there a call for genocide of Jews or the elimination of the State of Israel. The operative sentence recognized Israel by name, “We hold the Israeli regime responsible…” Recognition by name signifies recognition of the State of Israel. In contrast, Iran and other enemies of Israel convey their eliminationist intent by speaking of Israel as “the Zionist entity.”
Third — and this warrants elaboration, the use of the word “regime” would suggest Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu and his administration, one of the most right-wing anti-Palestinian governments in Israeli history.
In his last election campaign, Netanyahu ran on a platform of annexing the entire Jordan River Valley which comprises one-third of the West Bank. This, on top of the ongoing seizure by Israel of more and more Palestinian land on the West Bank, which has become a Balkanized collection of isolated Palestinian parcels separated by Israeli-only access roads and a myriad of IDF checkpoints.
While the pro-Palestinian rallying cry “From the river to the sea” has been denounced, how should we describe the Netanyahu regime’s policy of seizing more and more territory from the sea to the river?
Consider that Netanyahu has funneled money to Hamas — yes to Hamas. The Jerusalem Post reports that Netanyahu said to a Likud Party gathering in 2017 “whoever is against a Palestinian state should be for transferring the funds to Gaza, because maintaining a separation between the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza helps prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state." Is not Netanyahu partially responsible for Oct. 7, if he funded Hamas?
Fifth, if holding Israel “responsible for the unfolding violence” is the equivalent of excusing Palestinians, then the excuse is the equivalent of excusing Black rioters in this country. In both cases, the excuses are based upon injustices suffered. Accept or reject these excuses. Yet, if the excuse is acceptable in public debate about Black riots, why shouldn’t it be concerning Palestinian violence?
Sixth, the statement also charges Israel with responsibility for future violence with a tragically accurate prediction “Israeli oﬃcials promise to ‘open the gates of hell,’ and the massacres in Gaza have already commenced … In the coming days, Palestinians will be forced to bear the full brunt of Israel’s violence.”
Can anyone challenge the statement’s accuracy? More than 22,000 Gazans have been killed and 58,000 wounded and the territory reduced to rubble in an unprecedented bombing campaign that President Biden has called “indiscriminate.”
Nothing in the Harvard student coalition statement is antisemitic or anti-Zionist, much less pro-genocide; everything is about the State of Israel mistreating Palestinians. Some say the treatment is a necessary and justified cost of ensuring Israel’s national security. There are two sides to the issue.
The point of this column is not to support the views of the Harvard student coalition but to defend its right to express those views without being doxed and blacklisted by Harvard graduate Bill Ackman and others, in what are surely attempts to punish and silence speech with which they disagree. If Ackman disagrees, he should state his own case, not engage in character assassination or worse.
If this nation believes in free speech, as provided in the first amendment, then the Harvard student coalition’s statement should be accorded respect — at the very least under the classic formulation “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
Red Jahncke is the founder and CEO of Connecticut-based The Townsend Group International, LLC. He is a nationally recognized columnist who writes about politics and policy.
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