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‘Harvard caved’: Pro-Hamas protesters celebrate ‘student intifada’ after punishments for ‘lowering’ school grades

‘Harvard caved’: Pro-Hamas protesters celebrate ‘student intifada’ after punishments for ‘lowering’ school grades

Protesters march with their “Emergency Assembly: Stand with Palestinians Under Siege in Gaza” from Harvard University to the streets of Harvard Square, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S., October 14, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Harvard University has “softened” disciplinary sanctions imposed on several pro-Hamas protesters punished for illegally occupying Harvard Yard and vandalizing the campus for nearly five weeks, Scarlet Harvard it was announced on Wednesday.

The shocking turn of events is likely to erode the goodwill Harvard has regained by adopting an approach to discipline that discourages future inappropriate behavior, as well as anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli hate incidents that protesters have committed throughout the school year, which have damaged the institution’s reputation and led to a series of lawsuits and federal investigations.

According to Crimson“The most severe probation charge will last only one semester, a significant change from the original penalties that required at least one student to withdraw from the college for three semesters. Some students who were initially placed on probation in late May also had their probation period shortened.”

For a time, Harvard University had been vocal about its intention to dismantle the “Gaza solidarity camp”—a collection of tents that protesters had been living in and refused to leave until Harvard agreed to boycott Israel and divest from the country—and protesters had set up shop on campus, creating the impression that no one would go unpunished.

In a public statement, Interim President Alan Garber condemned the actions of protesters who forced exam dates to be changed and disrupted the learning of students who were still doing homework and studying for finals. The protesters appeared to have abdicated that responsibility, simply taking a vacation to participate in the demonstration.

Harvard reportedly began suspending protesters after they rejected a deal to leave the camp. Scarlet Harvard. Before that, Garber had vowed that any student who continued to occupy that part of campus would be placed on “forced leave,” a measure that effectively removes students from the school and prevents them from entering campus until the university decides whether they can return. The disciplinary measures came a day after members of Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine (HOOP) created a sign with an anti-Semitic caricature of Garber as Satan and accused him of duplicity.

During Harvard’s graduation ceremony in May, reports emerged that some students were prevented from attending the graduation ceremony and receiving their diplomas.

However, Harvard, as well as the organization behind the camp, HOOP, have always said that some protesters would be allowed to appeal the penalties, according to an agreement reached by both sides. It was unclear whether the final outcome would be a victory for the protesters.

The unrepentant HOOP celebrated the revocation of its suspension on social media Wednesday and, in addition to suggesting it had once again disrupted campus activities, called its movement an “intifada,” a reference to two prolonged periods of Palestinian terrorism during which hundreds of Israeli Jews were murdered.

“Harvard is lifting probation and suspensions of pro-Palestinian students after overwhelming pressure,” the group said. “After sustained student and faculty organizing, Harvard has relented, demonstrating that the student intifada will always win… This reversal is the bare minimum. We call on our community to demand nothing less than the liberation of the Palestinians from the river to the sea. Based on the right of return and resistance. We will not rest until divestment from the Israeli regime is achieved.”

The news was met with disappointment by Jewish students and leaders at Harvard, many of whom met with lawmakers to discuss their experiences with anti-Semitism there.

“What?! Harvard is reversing several suspensions they gave to students who harassed Jews and called for violence,” Harvard student Shabbos Kestenbaum wrote on Twitter. “Anti-Semitic classmates consider this a victory, declaring ‘long live the intifada.’”

The Harvard Jewish Alumni Alliance added: “You can ignore Harvard’s rules as long as you put Jews in their place… if you target another group, you will be punished.”

Experts have described the past year as a low point in the history of Harvard University, America’s oldest and arguably most important institution of higher learning. Since the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre in southern Israel, the school has been accused of fostering a culture of racial resentment and anti-Semitism, while major donors have cut funding for programs. In just nine months, the school’s first black president, Claudine Gay, has resigned in disgrace after being exposed as a serial plagiarist; Harvard faculty members shared an anti-Semitic cartoon on social media; and protesters were filmed surrounding a Jewish student and shouting “Shame!” in his ear.

According to the U.S. House of Representatives Education and Workforce Committee, Harvard repeatedly misrepresented how it dealt with the outpouring of hate and rule-breaking, launching a campaign of deception and manipulation to cover up what would ultimately become the biggest scandal in higher education.

The report, written by the commission as part of a broader investigation into the school, alleged that the university created the Anti-Semitism Advisory Group (AAG) largely for show and failed to consult with its members when Jewish students were being subjected to verbal abuse and harassment, at a time when its members felt its advice was most needed. The advisory group then recommended nearly a dozen remedies to the problem and offered other guidance, the report said, but it was excluded from high-level discussions that preceded, for example, former President Gay’s testimony before Congress in December — a hearing convened to discuss anti-Semitism at Harvard.

“Most” AAG members were so frustrated that they were complicit in what the commission described as a deceitfully created PR facade that they threatened to resign their membership.

Harvard must continue to address unresolved issues that have arisen from the events of the past academic year. A congressional investigation into its handling of anti-Semitism is underway, and six Jewish students are suing it for allegedly ignoring anti-Semitic discrimination.

In April, lawyers representing the school attempted to have the lawsuit dismissed by the court, arguing that the plaintiffs lacked legal standing.

“Without in any way minimizing the importance of vigorously addressing the problem of anti-Semitism at the University, Plaintiff’s dissatisfaction with Harvard’s strategy and pace of substantive work does not constitute a legally cognizable claim,” the motion to dismiss, as cited by Carmine“Accordingly, the amended complaint should be dismissed.”

Shabbos Kestenbaum, one of the plaintiffs in the case, promised to see the dispute through to the end.

“Harvard’s meritless motion to dismiss our lawsuit only proves our point: it has never taken the concerns of us Jewish students seriously, and it has no plans to do so now,” he said in a statement. “We will continue to apply maximum pressure, both in court and in the court of public opinion… We hope that donors and future students will follow our lead.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.