An open letter to the Harvard Crimson - World Jewish Congress

An open letter to the Harvard Crimson

An open letter to the Harvard Crimson

Following the Harvard Crimson Editorial Board’s endorsement of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, members of the WJC Jewish Diplomatic Corps who graduated from Harvard University wrote the following letter to the Editorial Board: 

 Dear Harvard Crimson Editorial Board, 

As alumni of Harvard University and members of the World Jewish Congress Jewish Diplomatic Corps we have a shared admiration for The Harvard Crimson, a paper with a record for delivering content that is enriching, stimulating, and encouraging of diverse opinions among Harvard's students.

Therefore, it came as a surprise to encounter the Friday, April 29th editorial expressing your support for the "Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (BDS)" movement against the State of Israel. This corrosive campaign undermines and contradicts the integrity of everything your institution stands for. As we share your desire for "rightful justice," we feel compelled to voice and call attention to several inconsistencies, fallacies and facts that you might have overlooked in your editorial.  You claim to be all for "civil discourse and debate" as you uphold that they are "fundamental steps towards a better reality," but you are aligning yourselves with a cause that shuts down and stifles all means of communication, bars artists and academics, silences constructive dialogue and condemns all those who do not support its own views. The BDS movement is an affront to healthy debate and conversation that can actually bring opponents of differing views together. This is especially important as mutual recognition, trust and open channels of communication are essential preconditions for peacebuilding to even be possible. 

Supporting the BDS movement dramatically hinders any opportunity of reaching authentic solutions for the Arab-Israeli conflict. It stigmatizes the State of Israel as the only perpetuator of the conflict, creating a one-sided view that removes all responsibility from the hands of other parties. BDS is a movement that operates under the foundational belief that the State of Israel is entirely responsible for the Arab-Israeli conflict.  

It's not just the "fringes of otherwise worthwhile movements" as you state in the article, even the founders and leaders of the BDS movement have been explicit to the fact that the aim of this movement is to destroy the State of Israel. "We oppose a Jewish State in any part of Palestine," uttered Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the BDS movement. Asad Abukhalil, a leading BDS activist wrote in an article that "[t]he real aim of BDS is to bring down the State of Israel... as an unambiguous goal."   You assert that you "unambiguously oppose and condemn antisemitism in every and all forms." And yet, the movement you are supporting and praising in your editorial is outright antisemitic to its core. BDS distorts, magnifies and spreads false rumors in order to single-out and frame the State of Israel under a narrative that is both fake and defamatory. Aiming to obliterate our right to self-determination not only affects Israeli citizens, but also the Jewish nation as a whole, which is still in the midst of recovering from the Holocaust. 

We cannot ignore the fact that antisemitism has been on a critical rise in the last few years. It has again entered mainstream culture, expressing itself through various violent and non-violent acts in countries with large Jewish communities. The Antisemitism Worldwide Report of 2021, a study conducted by The Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry revealed the dramatic rise of antisemitic attacks. As stated by the BBC "The number of anti-Jewish hate crimes recorded in both New York and Los Angeles were almost twice that of the previous year… In France, the number of recorded antisemitic incidents increased by almost 75% compared with 2020… In Canada, a leading Jewish group reported a 40-year record in anti-Semitic physical violence in one month." Supporting the BDS movement, even if well intentioned, empowers and gives ammunition to antisemites in one of the most troubling times since the Holocaust, putting at risk the lives and integrity of millions of Jews across the world. 

Also surprising was your support for the libelous art display by Harvard's Palestine Solidarity Committee that you so highly praised as depicting "well-established, if rarely stated, facts." One particularly concerning part of the mural reads "Zionism is Racism Settler Colonialism White Supremacy Apartheid." This is specially concerning as it deliberately perpetuates an ill-intentioned lie. Contrary to the allegations made, the State of Israel is the most democratic country in the Middle East. In Israel, Arab-Israeli citizens enjoy the same rights and freedoms as any other citizen of the country. Arab-Israelis share a fair amount of seats at Parliament, hold important positions in the judiciary, academia, in the military and major financial institutions. It could be said that Arab populations living in Israel possess more human rights and greater political freedoms than most of their counterparts living in any other country in the Middle East. 

I sincerely share the view that "Palestinians […] deserve dignity and freedom."  But the BDS movement does not wholly represent or stand for the best interests of Palestinians. The policies proposed by the BDS movement put Palestinians at the perilous risk of losing jobs, opportunities and goods by boycotting Israel, for their economy is invariably linked with the Jewish State. The aforementioned leaves Palestinians even more dependent on the authoritarian regimes they live under-- such as Hamas in Gaza, a terrorist entity designated as such by dozens of countries and that has openly called for genocide against Jews. Under these regimes Palestinians are denied basic rights, including the freedom to voice their opinions and advocate for peace. More so, these de facto powers use civilians human shields and routinely torture and kill those who do not sympathize with their doctrines as revealed in US State Department Reports. Certainly, a far cry to the "life, peace and security" that, we agree, every people, including Palestinians - deserve. 

Overall, supporting the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions movement goes against civil discourse and dialogue, implies disproportionate responsibility on Israel, perpetuates antisemitic libels and harms the very people it claims to stand for. The negative consequences that can be brought upon the stimulating academic environment that you have undoubtedly contributed are immeasurable. The permission to marginalize, harass, intimidate and silence students, academics and scholars can be viewed as the first sign of decay of any intellectual community.  

As my fellow WJC Jewish Diplomatic Corps Member and author Alex Ryvchin mentioned in the introduction to his book The Anti-Israel Agenda; "Insofar as Israel embodies Jewish national rights, the acceptance of the Jew as equal will not be complete until the national home of the Jewish people is treated as equal among the nations." 

We call on the Harvard Crimson, and on everyone genuinely concerned about social issues, to use your moral voices in support of dialogue, freedom of expression, and a constructive solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict that doesn't deny the right of the Jewish people to a state of our own. 

Sincerely,  

Nicolas Calderón, Chile – Harvard Business School, 2021

Eli Novershtern, Israel – Harvard Kennedy School, 2008

Tobyn Aaron, Japan – Harvard College, 2011 | Harvard Law School, 2016

Salomón Sacal, Mexico – Harvard Extension School, 2009

Jacob Turner, United Kingdom – Harvard Law School, 2011

Natalie Somekh, United Kingdom – Harvard Business School, 2008

Derika Weddington, United States of America – Harvard University, 2000

Shai Kivity, United States of America – Harvard Kennedy School, 2020

About the WJC Jewish Diplomatic Corps 

The WJC Jewish Diplomatic Corps is the flagship program of the World Jewish Congress (WJC), under the vision and leadership of WJC President Ronald S. Lauder. This program empowers new generations of outstanding Jewish leaders. We are a highly selective worldwide network of 380 members from 60 countries receiving opportunities, experience, and skills to impact Jewish interests through diplomacy and public policy. Click here to learn more