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Harvard denounces ‘profoundly offensive’ antisemitic image circulated by pro-Palestinian campus groups

Erica Denhoff/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

Harvard University and its interim president have condemned an image circulated on social media by pro-Palestinian campus groups, prompting the groups to remove and apologize for the posting.

The cartoon, shared on Instagram accounts belonging to the Harvard Faculty & Staff for Justice in Palestine group, the Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee and the African American Resistance Organization, shows a hand etched with the star of David and a dollar sign holding nooses around the necks of what appears to be boxer Muhammad Ali and Gamal Abdel Nasser, who was a longtime president of Egypt.

“As members of an academic community, we can and we will disagree, sometimes vehemently, on matters of public concern and controversy, including hotly contested issues relating to the war in Israel and Gaza, and the longstanding Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” said Alan Garber, Harvard’s interim president, in a statement sent Tuesday evening. “But it is grossly irresponsible and profoundly offensive when that disagreement devolves into forms of expression that demonize individuals because of their religion, race, nationality, or other aspects of their identity.”

The images were initially shared by a 1960s civil rights group. The three groups that circulated the image issued their own statements criticizing it.

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“The inclusion of the offensive caricature was an unprompted, painful error – a combination of ignorance and inadequate oversight,” said a joint statement on Instagram from the Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee and the African American Resistance Organization.

The groups said they had removed the image, but “it should never have been published to begin with. We wholeheartedly apologize for the immense harm we caused.”

Another group that had circulated the image, the Harvard Faculty & Staff for Justice in Palestine, also apologized for circulating the image, which it termed “antiquated” and “offensive.”

“We apologize for the hurt that these images have caused and do not condone them in any way,” it said.

Although Garber’s statement acknowledged that the groups had “sought to distance themselves from it in various ways,” he said that “the damage remains, and our condemnation stands.” He said Harvard would investigate the incident to determine who was responsible and whether any further action was necessary.

Hamas’ attack on Israel on October 7 and the Israeli response in Gaza since then have stirred protests as well as increased incidents of antisemitism and islamophobia at Harvard and other US college campuses.

Garber assumed the post of interim president after former Harvard President Claudine Gay resigned last month amid criticism that she and the school had not responded sufficiently against antisemitism on campus. She was also investigated for allegations of plagiarism. But her undoing mostly stemmed from her response to questions from lawmakers on Capitol Hill in December, at which she initially struggled to say whether calls for genocide of Jews would violate campus policies. Gay later apologized.

The criticism about Harvard’s response to antisemitism on campus has prompted some major financial donors to withdraw support of the school.

A congressional committee investigating campus antisemitism took the unprecedented step of issuing multiple subpoenas to Harvard University on Friday, compelling the Ivy League school to turn over documents lawmakers are seeking. The House Education and Workforce Committee, which issued the subpoenas, also criticized the cartoon in its own tweet on Monday.

“This repugnant antisemitism should have no place in our society, much less on Harvard’s faculty,” it said.

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