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ALAN DERSHOWITZ: Harvard Must Condemn Pro-Hamas Students

Harvard Hall - Harvard University, Photo: Daderot, via Wikimedia Commons

By Alan M. Dershowitz, via The Daily Caller News Foundation | October 22, 2023

There’s an ongoing debate on university campuses about whether and how to respond to students who support, defend or even praise what Hamas terrorists deliberately did to innocent Israeli children, the elderly and other civilians.

On the one hand, there are free-speech and academic-freedom considerations.

As Harvard’s president, Claudine Gay, put it in refusing to condemn the more than 30 student groups who blamed Israel alone for the Hamas horrors: “Harvard embraces a commitment to free expression.”

That would be acceptable if the university had a strict and consistent policy of never taking positions on issues that do not directly involve the university.

The University of Chicago has that policy. Harvard does not.

Former Harvard president Lawrence Summers reminded the current administration the school has forfeited that prerogative — to “pursue a policy of neutrality” — by speaking out on other issues such as the killing of George Floyd.

The testing question would be: What, if anything, would Harvard’s president have said if a group of Harvard clubs blamed the lethal firebombing of a black church on the burned black children or the NAACP?

What if they blamed the shooting-up of a gay bar on the lifestyles of the murdered gays?

Or the lynching of blacks on their “uppity” attitudes?

We know what the reaction of university administrators would have been.

At the very least, they would have exercised their own freedom of expression to condemn these groups in the strongest terms.

So we have two direct questions for President Gay (whom we respect):

1) Would you have refused to condemn student groups that took these despicable positions, citing their freedom of expression?

2) If you would have condemned such groups (as we’re confident you would have), how do you distinguish these groups from those you refuse to condemn?

Is supporting the mass murder of Jews any less deserving of condemnation than supporting those who burn churches, shoot gays or lynch blacks?

How then can you justify not condemning the Harvard groups?

Is it because you would be criticized for condemning pro-Hamas students but praised for condemning anti-black and anti-gay bigots?

That is not a principled basis for making a distinction. What then is the basis?

Certainly not Harvard’s sordid history, which is rife with racism and antisemitism.

For generations, Harvard excluded or limited the number of black and Jewish students. In the 1930s it honored German Nazis.

As recently as 1964, when one of us (Alan) arrived there, it discriminated against Jews in the selection of presidents and deans.

It welcomed recruitment on campus by corporations and law firms that openly discriminated against Jews.

To its credit, Harvard has tried to reckon with its history of anti-black racism.

It must now reckon with its history of antisemitism and its current application of double standards in tolerating Jew-hatred among elements of its student body, faculty and administrators.

It is no excuse to say the current Jew-hatred is directed at the nation-state of the Jewish people rather than at Jews as a group.

Hamas lynched, raped, beheaded and kidnapped Jews who lived in Israel.

It has murdered non-Israeli Jews in other parts of the world, and its charter is filled with anti-Jewish canards borrowed from the notorious antisemitic forgery “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”

Hamas is a Jew-hating antisemitic terrorist group, and students who support it by shifting the blame from them to the Jews of Israel are complicit in Hamas Jew-hatred and must be held accountable.

Nor is it an excuse or justification that the offending groups comprise young students, some of whom claim they didn’t realize what they signed.

They knew they were signing an anti-Israel petition at a time Israeli Jews were being slaughtered.

The fact some may have signed it without reading it only goes to show the knee-jerk hatred of some students toward anything involving Israel or Jews.

They would never have signed a petition critical of gays or blacks without studying it carefully.

Harvard treats its students — both 18-year-old freshmen and 25-year-old graduate students — as adults, holding them responsible for what they write and sign. It does not excuse plagiarism even if negligent.

There is no basis for an exception here.

Students who supported this and similar petitions should be called out and criticized.

If they want to retract their signatures, they should do so publicly and apologize.

Silence is complicity.

Freedom of expression precludes the power to punish immoral speech.

It includes the right to condemn such speech.

Alan Dershowitz is professor emeritus at Harvard Law School and the author of “Get Trump,” “Guilt by Accusation” and “The Price of Principle.” Andrew Stein, a Democrat, served as New York City Council president, 1986-94.This piece is republished from the Alan Dershowitz Newsletter.