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Robbins: With its antisemitism problem under scrutiny, Harvard’s not looking that great

By Jeff Robbins - | May 29, 2024

Democratic Sen. John Fetterman made artful use of a common expletive to highlight Harvard’s by-now well-known fecklessness in declining to address its antisemitism problem, a problem thoroughly marbled throughout its faculty, student body and university infrastructure. The problem burst into international view on Oct. 7, when, just hours after Hamas gunmen committed to slaughtering Jews invaded Israel and slaughtered 1,200 of them, 30 Harvard student organizations pronounced Israel to blame. Footage rapidly accumulated of Harvard students accosting and bullying Jewish students, and cheering the slaughterers. Then Harvard’s president, asked in front of Congress whether calls for the genocide of Jews of the kind occurring on her campus violated the school’s code of conduct, replied that it depended on the context in which calls for the genocide of Jews took place.

So when the House Committee on Education and Workforce issued a report this month finding that Harvard had disregarded the recommendations of its own, much-touted “Antisemitism Advisory Group,” Fetterman was decidedly unshocked. “No (kidding)” he posted above a Wall Street Journal headline “Harvard Was Unresponsive to Antisemitism, House Committee Finds,” but the word he actually chose was not the word “kidding.”

The Republican-led committee has done America a profound service by exposing the dark money flowing into American academia from petrodollar-rich Middle Eastern regimes like Qatar, which have successfully purchased influence there. Inexplicably, Democrats have chosen to stay silent, confining themselves to scornfully accusing Republicans of scoring political points. Maybe, but Republicans have succeeded in illuminating the harassment and intimidation of Jewish kids that has gone on in academia for years, fueled and orchestrated by shadowy groups whose purpose is to try to delegitimize Jewish students’ identification with the Jewish state. The committee has shone a light as well on the abuse of power by some anti-Israel faculty and the unwillingness of universities to confront any of it.

The congressional examination of university presidents has triggered howls of protest from some who apparently believe that the recipients of billions annually in taxpayer dollars are exempt from questions about whether they systematically violate the civil rights laws — where Jews are concerned. And they are mightily displeased that university presidents’ inanity, arrogance and propensity for blather have been placed on national display.

Last week’s appearance before the House committee of the presidents of Northwestern, Rutgers and UCLA occurred contemporaneously with the release of yet more footage showing the depravity of those with whom campus progressives have aligned themselves. Graphic video emerged of Hamas’ abduction of female Israeli soldiers and of the confessions of a father-and-son Hamas team describing how Hamas took turns raping the women they seized on Oct. 7 before murdering them.

Meanwhile, hundreds of Harvard seniors bolted their commencement, singing the praises of the murderers. And Harvard’s commencement speaker, disqualifying herself from the Self-Awareness Hall of Fame, complained that she had been falsely accused of antisemitism “by money and power because they want money and power.”

Over in federal court in Boston, the Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law and a group of Jewish students at Harvard’s Kennedy School, Business School and Medical School have just filed a 72-page lawsuit alleging that Harvard has violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. The Brandeis Center has become for Jewish students subjected to antisemitism on campus what the NAACP Legal Defense Fund has been for Black Americans, the gold standard of civil rights advocacy. Though Harvard claims that “bullying, hostile and abusive behavior … are prohibited at Harvard” and that it takes “appropriate action to prevent and respond to” discriminatory behavior, the lawsuit alleges, “those promises are empty.” On the contrary, the complaint states “when Harvard is presented with incontrovertible evidence of antisemitic conduct, it ignores and tolerates it,” the “opposite of its aggressive enforcement of the same anti-bullying and anti-discrimination policies to protect other minorities.”

No (kidding). Harvard now faces the unwelcome prospect of having the details itemized in the Brandeis Center’s complaint laid out in clover in a federal court. There are administrators whose faces will be crimson.

Jeff Robbins, a former assistant United States attorney and United States delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, was chief counsel for the minority of the United States Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. An attorney specializing in the First Amendment, he is a longtime columnist for the Boston Herald, writing on politics, national security, human rights and the Mideast.

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