Harvard President Calls Cartoon Posted by Student, Faculty Groups ‘Flagrantly Antisemitic’

By Matis Glenn

Byerly Hall, at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, at Harvard University. (123rf)

Two student groups and a faculty organization at Harvard posted a cartoon Sunday which the university’s interim president called “flagrantly antisemitic,” as the institution faces federal investigations into its handling of antisemitism on campus.

The cartoon, originally posted by the Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee and the African American Resistance Organization, showed two men, one black, the other Arab, hanging from a noose held by a hand that contained a Star of David and a dollar sign.

The newly formed Harvard Faculty and Staff for Justice in Palestine group reposted the cartoon shortly afterwards.

On Sunday, University spokesperson Jason Newton called the cartoon “despicable.”

The same day, Harvard Chabad wrote on social media that “Members of Harvard *faculty* posting old-school classic antisemitic posters. Note the $ sign placed in the Star of David depicted below.

“This should be called what it is. Reprehensible. Bigoted. Hateful.”

Harvard Hillel wrote on social media that the cartoon “follows an alarming increase in antisemitism on our campus in recent weeks.”

“We will continue to call upon our administration to take action against virulent antisemitism at Harvard and strengthen our Jewish community,” the organization’s post continued.

The Harvard Jewish Law Students Association released a statement Sunday, saying that “at a time when antisemitic incidents are at an all-time high and Holocaust denial is spreading both in the U.S. and abroad, Harvard faculty and students must understand and be held to account for the tremendous consequences of proliferating insidious tropes.”

Harvard interim President Alan Garber issued a statement Tuesday condemning the cartoon. “Perpetuating vile and hateful antisemitic tropes, or otherwise engaging in inflammatory rhetoric or sharing images that demean people on the basis of their identity, is precisely the opposite of what this moment demands of us.

“While the groups associated with the posting or sharing of the cartoon have since sought to distance themselves from it in various ways, the damage remains, and our condemnation stands,” Garber said.

Garber took the helm of the Ivy League school after former President Claudine Gay resigned amid allegations of failure to address antisemitism on campus and engaging in academic plagiarism. Gay, along with the head of University of Pennsylvania, who also resigned, and the president of MIT, were grilled in a December congressional hearing over the permissibility of calling for the genocide of Jews on campus; none responded that such conduct was categorically forbidden, but rather depended on “context.” Several prominent donors, including Len Blavatnik and Ken Griffin, withdrew funding from Harvard over the allegations, further pressuring Gay to resign. 

In addition to condemning the cartoon, Garber hinted that those responsible for the publishing of the cartoon might face consequences.

“The University will review the situation to better understand who was responsible for the posting and to determine what further steps are warranted,” Garber said.

Several media outlets, including the Boston Globe, researched the image and found that it had been originally created in the 1960’s by an anti-Israel group called the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which sought to link the American civil rights movement with the position of Palestinian groups. The two Harvard student groups wrote underneath the cartoon that it symbolized the “historical roots of solidarity” between the “Black liberation movements and Palestinian liberation.”

On Monday, the student groups who originally posted the cartoon said that the image was posted “inadvertently,” stating that it “played upon antisemitic tropes” but that the cartoon “was not reflective of our values as organizations.”

Later, in a Tuesday statement, the student groups said that they “wholeheartedly apologize.”

However, the Harvard Faculty and Staff for Justice in Palestine did not respond on the issue until Tuesday, when they wrote in a statement that they apologized “for the hurt that these images have caused,” and said that they do not “condone them in any way.”

But the group did not seem to acknowledge that they posted the image, stating only that “It has come to our attention that a post featuring antiquated cartoons which used offensive antisemitic tropes was linked to our account,” even though the cartoon was featured on the group’s page.

Shabbos Kestenbaum, a Jewish student at Harvard who, along with other students, filed a lawsuit recently against the university, wrote on Sunday: “*Faculty* just posted an explicitly antisemitic poster depicting a Jewish hand controlling the black mind.

“With Professors like these, it’s easy to see why we Jewish students don’t feel safe in class.”

On the faculty group’s website, the group denounces Israel’s military operations in Gaza to eliminate the Hamas terror group as a “genocidal war and ethnic cleansing in Gaza.”

Harvard is among dozens of universities nationwide which are under federal investigation for Title VI civil rights violations relating to their handling of antisemitism on campus. On Friday, the House Education Committee subpoenaed Harvard for not sharing documents related to the investigation.

“This repugnant antisemitism should have no place in our society, much less on Harvard’s faculty,” the committee posted on X Wednesday.

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