Harvard officials denounce 'antisemitic' photo shared by student groups on social media

The student groups have apologized for the post

ByKiara Alfonseca ABCNews logo
Wednesday, February 21, 2024
ABC7 Chicago 24/7 Stream
Live streaming newscasts, breaking news, weather & original, local programming.

Harvard University officials are denouncing a cartoon deemed antisemitic after it was posted and then deleted on social media by a student group collective.

The infographic from the student groups Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee and the African American Resistance Organization was intended to explain similarities between the Black and Palestinian liberation movements, according to the groups.

The graphic depicts a hand marked with the Jewish Star of David, with a dollar sign in the middle, according to Harvard interim president Alan M. Garber. The hand is holding a rope that is tied in a noose around the necks of a Black and Arab figure. An arm, marked as the "third world," is depicted as cutting the rope with a sword marked "liberation movement."

The cartoon prompted immediate backlash from the university and students and staff on campus.

"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," Gerber said in a statement Tuesday in response to the post and backlash.

Gerber highlighted the ongoing tensions over the conflict between Israel and Hamas, pointing to complaints from Jewish, Israeli, Muslim, Palestinian, and Arab community members feeling "targeted, rejected, and ostracized."

Harvard University is one of several U.S. universities that have been mired in controversy since the terrorist attack by Hamas in Israel on Oct. 7 in which at least 1,200 were killed, according to Israeli officials. In the Gaza Strip, at least 29,313 people have been killed by Israeli forces since Oct. 7, according to the Hamas-controlled Ministry of Health.

Gerber continued, "The war and its effects on the lives of people directly affected by the conflict demand our profound concern and sympathy. We must approach one another with compassion, open minds, and mutual respect, our discourse grounded in facts and supported by reasoned argument.

The student groups who posted the cartoon have since apologized.

"The original antisemitic image wholly violated our internal standards and betrayed our fundamental values of justice and liberation," said the joint statement from the Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee and African American Resistance Organization.

"The inclusion of the offensive caricature was an unprompted, painful error - a combination of ignorance and inadequate oversight," the groups' statement said.

The groups stated that though the image was promptly removed, "it should never have been published to begin with. We wholeheartedly apologize for the immense harm we caused."

Shortly after the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel, several pro-Palestine student groups issued a statement on the conflict, saying the Israeli regime is "entirely responsible for all unfolding violence."

"Today's events did not occur in a vacuum. For the last two decades, millions of Palestinians in Gaza have been forced to live in an open-air prison. Israeli officials promise to 'open the gates of hell,' and the massacres in Gaza have already commenced. Palestinians in Gaza have no shelters for refuge and nowhere to escape. In the coming days, Palestinians will be forced to bear the full brunt of Israel's violence," the Harvard student groups said in their statement after the attack.

After the statement was released, the groups faced fierce backlash nationwide, with critics accusing them of supporting the Hamas attack - which the groups denied.

Then-Harvard president Claudine Gay was grilled alongside several other university presidents in a congressional hearing to answer criticism that they weren't doing enough to counter antisemitism on campus.

Since then, tensions on campus have continued. The university has since created the Antisemitism Advisory Group as well as the Presidential Task Force on Combating Islamophobia and Anti-Arab Bias.

In January, a group of Jewish students at Harvard filed a federal lawsuit claiming the school has "become a bastion of rampant anti-Jewish hatred and harassment" and alleging the administration has failed to protect them.

A spokesperson for Harvard University issued a statement to ABC News after the lawsuit was filed, saying, "We do not comment on pending litigation."

In early February, the U.S. Department of Education opened an investigation into possible discrimination at Harvard after Arab and Muslim students filed a civil rights complaint against the university for its alleged failure to protect pro-Palestinian students from harassment, intimidation and threats.

In a statement, Harvard told ABC News, "We support the work of the Office of Civil Rights to ensure students' rights to access educational programs are safeguarded and will work with the office to address their questions."