The Harvard Crimson is facing backlash from campus Jewish groups, along with some high-profile Harvard faculty and alumni, after the newspaper’s Editorial Board last month endorsed the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, which calls on Western institutions to cut ties with Israel.
In a staff editorial published on April 29, The Crimson’s Editorial Board reversed its precedent and endorsed BDS, which seeks to put international pressure on Israel over the country’s treatment of Palestinians. Many critics of the movement charge that it is antisemitic and implicitly denies the legitimacy of Israel.
The editorial sparked international furor, drawing condemnation from the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and columnists in several Israeli newspapers. It also came under fire on Harvard’s campus, where the leaders of Jewish groups condemned the editorial and some high-profile faculty denounced it as antisemitic.
Late last week, several prominent Harvard faculty members — including Psychology professor Steven A. Pinker and former University President Lawrence H. Summers — signed onto a faculty petition denouncing the editorial.
“I thought the BDS movement was taking positions that were basically antisemitic, immoral, poorly thought out, and would be very damaging if actually acted on,” Summers said in an interview. “I was appalled by the content and really troubled that a usually serious and thoughtful organization like The Harvard Crimson would enthusiastically endorse them.”
Rabbi Jonah C. Steinberg, executive director of Harvard Hillel, wrote in an email to Hillel affiliates on April 29 that the editorial “reflects a descent away from close analysis, as well as a difference from a not-so-distant time when there was more considerable overlap between our Harvard Hillel community and the leadership of the Crimson.”
According to The Crimson's 2021 staff diversity report, 5.3 percent of The Crimson's editors identify as Jewish. Per The Crimson's annual freshman survey, 5.2 percent of the College's Class of 2024 identify as Jewish.
In a statement, The Crimson’s president, Raquel Coronell Uribe ’22-’23, wrote that the newspaper is committed to “journalistic integrity, freedom of the press, and freedom of expression.”
“The Crimson strives for diversity and inclusivity in all respects, from diversity of identity to diversity of opinion,” Coronell Uribe wrote. “The Crimson rejects discrimination, including antisemitism, in all its forms — both among our staff and in our pages.”
The staff editorial said “support for Palestinian liberation is not antisemitic,” adding: “We unambiguously oppose and condemn antisemitism in every and all forms, including those times when it shows up on the fringes of otherwise worthwhile movements.”
The 87-member Editorial Board operates independently from The Crimson’s newsroom. Its staff editorials, which are voted on three times per week, represent the majority view of the board members present for a given meeting.
The editorial was published on the heels of the annual Israel Apartheid Week, put on at Harvard by the Palestine Solidarity Committee, a student group “dedicated to supporting the Palestinian struggle for self-determination, justice, and equality through raising awareness, advocacy, and non-violent resistance,” per its website. As part of the demonstrations, the PSC put up a controversial mural in Harvard Yard that said, “Zionism is Racism Settler Colonialism White Supremacy Apartheid.”
At a Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences meeting earlier this month, Government professor Eric M. Nelson ’99 questioned University President Lawrence S. Bacow about the “eruption of antisemitism on campus,” pointing to The Crimson’s editorial, the mural, and a swastika symbol that was found in Currier House earlier this month.
Bacow declined to comment on The Crimson’s editorial, saying that the newspaper is “entitled to publish what they wish and to share their views as they may.” But he added that “any suggestion of targeting or boycotting a particular group because of disagreements over the policies pursued by their governments is antithetical to what we stand for as a university.”
“I think academic boycotts have absolutely no place at Harvard, regardless of who they target,” Bacow said.
Rabbi Hirschy Zarchi, the founder and president of Harvard Chabad, took issue with the editorial’s depiction of the PSC’s “Wall of Resistance,” saying the display was “filled with messages of hate and antisemitism.”
“To have a Crimson editorial referred to it as a colorful wall? Of course there’s outrage. Of course people are stunned not only here, but around the world,” Zarchi said.
Christian B. Tabash ’22, an organizer for Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine and the Palestine Solidarity Committee, said he was “pleasantly surprised” to see the editorial — and unsurprised by the backlash.
“All of this fanfare is intended to divert the attention away from Israel’s crimes,” Tabash said of the response to the editorial. “For those of us who are concerned about freedom and justice, we have to keep our eyes set on what actually matters, which is keeping Palestinians at the center of our conversation.”
Many Crimson alumni have also denounced the piece. On Monday, the newspaper published an open letter signed by 69 current and former Crimson editors condemning the editorial, saying that it alienated students.
In a letter to the editor published last week, former Crimson President Ira E. Stoll ’94 wrote that alumni “may ask ourselves why we’d volunteer anything” to support the newspaper in light of the editorial — a point echoed by Summers on Twitter the next day.
“The Crimson is an institution that I care a lot about and have devoted a lot of time to,” Stoll said in an interview. “To wake up the morning after Holocaust Remembrance Day to see that editorial calling for a boycott of the Jewish state, singling out Israel for criticism, a boycott of Israel, I just found that profoundly disappointing.”
“I just think it’s appalling,” Stoll added. “You guys should be embarrassed, and I’m not the only one who thinks that way.”
Coronell Uribe wrote that The Crimson is “grateful to our alumni, who we know believe in The Crimson’s mission and in its editorial independence, for their support in helping us make The Crimson accessible to all students by funding our financial aid program.”
“I hope that disagreement with any one editorial would not change that,” she wrote.
Staff editorials published by The Crimson have previously been critical of Israel, but last month marked the first time the board had endorsed the BDS movement.
“Staff editorials represent solely the majority view of the Editorial Board, and are the result of discussions at editorial meetings, at which only active members of the Editorial Board may vote,” Coronell Uribe wrote. “The goal of the Board is to come as near as possible to a consensus and opine on newsworthy issues that impact our campus.”
Days later, Daniel A. Swanson ’74, who was president of The Crimson in 1973, sent in his own letter to the editor applauding the editorial.
In an interview, Swanson said it took “tremendous courage” for the Editorial Board to publish the piece, adding that the United States press corps has done a “poor job” covering the Israel-Palestine conflict.
“There’s more debate in The Harvard Crimson editorial — and room for both the main editorial and dissent — than there is in the New York Times editorial page, so that’s a very good sign,” Swanson said.
Summers, Stoll, and Zarchi called on The Crimson to apologize and retract the staff editorial.
“The role of The Crimson’s Editorial Board is to cultivate dialogue among our readers and to serve as a springboard for debate,” Coronell Uribe wrote. “The Crimson editorial page has published, as is its standard practice, opinion pieces with multiple and different perspectives on this matter.”
“We are appreciative of the various submissions and points of view that have been offered thus far,” Coronell Uribe added. “The Crimson editorial pages remain open for submissions on this topic and all others.”
Correction: May 9, 2022:
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated a letter to the editor by former Crimson President Ira E. Stoll ’94 said alumni of the newspaper should withhold donations in light of an April 29 staff editorial. In fact, the letter said alumni “may ask ourselves” why they would support the newspaper in light of the editorial, but did not call on others to stop donating.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to include an additional statement from Crimson President Raquel Coronell Uribe ’22-’23 regarding alumni support for the newspaper.
—Staff writer Vivi E. Lu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @vivielu_.
—Staff writer Leah J. Teichholtz can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @LeahTeichholtz.