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Harvard president, citing history and ‘resurgence’ of antisemitism, appoints advisers to help root it out

‘This university has done too little to confront’ the ‘lingering presence’ of antisemitism, says Claudine Gay. ‘No longer’

Under pressure from Jewish donors over her administration’s failure to quickly condemn anti-Zionist activism on campus and Hamas’s assault on Israel, Harvard University President Claudine Gay acknowledged a long history of  antisemitism at the institution and appointed a team of Jewish faculty, alumni and community leaders to adviser her on how to fight it.

“For years, this university has done too little to confront its continuing presence,” Gay, who took the helm at Harvard in July, said in a speech about antisemitsm at Harvard’s Hillel on Friday night. “No longer.”

“I want to make one thing absolutely clear,” she said. “Antisemitism has no place at Harvard.”

Gay’s speech came a day after the White House issued a statement condemning the “disturbing pattern of antisemitic messages” on college campuses, including calls for “the annihilation of the state of Israel” and “genocide against the Jewish people.”

Harvard was among the first campuses to erupt in controversy after the Oct. 7 terror attack, when three dozen student organizations signed onto a statement “holding the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence.” Several corporations said they were rescinding job offers to students who belonged to those groups, and some of the signers were doxxed by pro-Israel activists.

The Wexner Foundation also ended a fellowship that had paid for 500 Israelis to get master’s degrees at Harvard since 1989. Larry Summers, Harvard’s former president, said on social media that he was “disillusioned and alienated” by the university’s tepid response to the attack on Israel.

Colleges and universities across the U.S. have been aflame since the onset of the latest Israel-Hamas war, with Jewish and Muslim students reporting heightened levels of harassment. A Stanford University teaching assistant was suspended for calling Jews in his class colonizers. At Columbia, a 19-year-old was arrested for beating an Israeli graduate student with a stick as he was putting up posters of kidnapped Israelis.

At Cooper Union college on Wednesday night, several Jewish students said they feared for their life as pro-Palestine protesters banged on the windows of a locked library where they were sheltering. At Tulane University in New Orleans, a clash Thursday between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian activists resulted in several injuries — and several arrests.

“The ancient specter of antisemitism, that persistent and corrosive hatred, has returned with renewed force,” Harvard’s Gary said in her speech. “Here at Harvard, I’ve heard story after story of Jewish students feeling increasingly uneasy or even threatened on campus. We should all be alarmed by this. I am.”

Gay, a political scientist and Harvard’s first Black president, said she had assembled a group of advisers including Jewish professors, alumni and “religious leaders” to help her and Harvard’s provost and deans “identify all the places where we can intervene to disrupt and dismantle this ideology” and teach people on campus how to “recognize and confront antisemitism.” She did not name the advisers in the speech, and a spokeswoman declined to provide them Friday night.

“Harvard’s mission, and legacy, is the pursuit and dissemination of truth. And the core of antisemitism is a lie,” Gay said, citing denial of the Holocaust and of “the Jewish people’s historic ties to the land of Israel” as examples. “Harvard is a place for inquiry and vigorous debate about our world’s greatest challenges. A place to reveal truth, not to deny facts.

“Our Jewish students have shared searing accounts of feeling isolated and targeted,” Gay continued. “This shakes me to my core – as an educator, as a mother, as a human being. Harvard must be a place where everyone feels safe and seen. It is the right thing to do.”

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