Harvard University president Claudine Gay released a statement Thursday reiterating the school’s rejection of “all forms of hate,” and saying she “condemn(s)” the phrase “from the river to the sea,” a rallying cry used by some pro-Palestinian protesters that has been deemed antisemitic by the Anti-Defamation League.
In the statement, Gay said the phrase — and “any similarly hurtful phrases” — “bear specific historical meanings that to a great many people imply the eradication of Jews from Israel and engender both pain and existential fears within our Jewish community,” leading to her condemnation of it.
“From the river to the sea” is a pro-Palestinian rallying cry suggesting Palestinians should reclaim the land encompassing Israel from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River, and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said earlier in the week that the slogan is “widely understood as calling for the complete destruction of Israel.”
Seemingly in response to criticism from alumni and donors who said the school wasn’t doing enough to protect Jewish students, Gay announced that Harvard is expanding its Office for Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging to “more fully integrate” antisemitism into its work and has created an Antisemitism Advisory Group made of faculty, alumni and students.
Gay also addressed a situation on Oct. 18 in which a Jewish student was allegedly removed from a pro-Palestinian event, saying the “incident is being investigated by the FBI” and university police.
“Harvard has been and is a place of civil behavior and civil discourse,” Gay wrote in the statement. “We do not condone — and will not ignore — antisemitism, Islamophobia, acts of harassment or intimidation, or threats of violence.”
Harvard first made headlines related to the Israel-Hamas conflict last month when more than 30 student groups signed a statement that argued Hamas’ military assault on Israel “did not occur in a vacuum” and compared the Gaza Strip to an “open-air prison,” according to Harvard’s student newspaper, the Harvard Crimson. Billionaire hedge fund manager and Harvard alumnus Bill Ackman — who has been perhaps the most outspoken critic of Harvard’s response — took to X, formerly known as Twitter, to call for the release of the names of students who signed it so they weren’t hired by his company. Ackman later called on the university to immediately suspend students involved in the Oct. 18 incident. Harvard is just one of a number of elite universities in the U.S. that have come under fire for their responses to the Israel-Hamas conflict, or have had escalated issues on campus. At Columbia University, billionaire Leon Cooperman said he would stop donating unless he saw a change in the university’s response. At Cornell University, a student was arrested — and is facing up to five years in prison and a fine as high as $250,000 — after posting threats toward Jewish students on an online forum. The Biden administration launched an initiative last week that will work to monitor and curb the rise in antisemitism on college campuses.
On Tuesday, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) was censured in the House of Representatives — in part due to her sharing of a video that used the phrase “from the river to the sea.” More than 20 Democrats crossed party lines in voting to censure Tlaib, the only Palestinian American in Congress. In a tweet prior to the censuring, Tlaib said the phrase is “an aspirational call for freedom, human rights, and peaceful coexistence, not death, destruction, or hate.”