Rabbi Quits Harvard Anti-Semitism Advisory Group After President’s Congress Testimony

The rabbi said an ‘evil’ ideology ‘grips far too many of the students and faculty’ at the university.
Rabbi Quits Harvard Anti-Semitism Advisory Group After President’s Congress Testimony
Protesters hold signs in support of Palestine "resistance" during a rally at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., on Oct. 14, 2023. (Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images)
Bill Pan

The only rabbi on Harvard University’s recently formed anti-Semitism advisory committee has stepped down on Thursday, citing frustration over Harvard President Claudine Gay’s testimony before Congress.

“The short explanation is that both events on campus and the painfully inadequate testimony reinforced the idea that I cannot make the sort of difference I had hoped,” David Wolpe, a rabbi from California and visiting scholar at Harvard’s Divinity School, wrote on X.

Ms. Gay, whose initial response to the Hamas terror attacks on Israel drew intense backlash from alumni, donors, and lawmakers, founded the committee in late October to “frame an agenda and strategy for combating anti-Semitism” on the Cambridge, Massachusetts, campus.

In a speech announcing the formation of the group, Ms. Gay said the group’s members would dedicate themselves to “the vital work of eradicating anti-Semitism from our community.”

“They will help us to think expansively and concretely about all the ways that anti-Semitism shows up on our campus and in our campus culture,” she said at Harvard Hillel, the university’s Jewish center.

In his resignation letter, however, Mr. Wolpe said he realized that Harvard’s underlying ideology, which fuels the hatred against Jews by categorically labeling them as “oppressors,” is too deeply rooted for his committee to tackle.

“The system at Harvard, along with the ideology that grips far too many of the students and faculty, the ideology that works only along axes of oppression and places Jews as oppressors and therefore intrinsically evil, is itself evil,” the rabbi wrote.

“Battling that combination of ideologies is the work of more than a committee or a single university,” he added. “It is not going to be changed by hiring or firing a single person, or posting on X, or yelling at people who don’t post as you wish when you wish, as though posting is the summation of one’s moral character.”

“This is the task of educating a generation, and also a vast unlearning.”

In a statement, Ms. Gay said that she was “grateful for Rabbi Wolpe’s advice, perspective and friendship.”

“With thoughtfulness and candor, he has deepened my and our community’s understanding of the unacceptable presence of antisemitism here at Harvard,” she wrote. “We have more work to do, and his contributions will help shape our path forward.”

The resignation comes after Ms. Gay, alongside presidents of the University of Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, faced an over five-hour-long grilling before the House Education and the Workforce Committee. The hearing stood out as the first time college executives have been summoned before Congress to defend their actions following the Oct. 7 attack on Israel and responses to anti-Israel protests on campus.

In one particularly heated exchange, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), a Harvard graduate, asked each of the three university leaders whether calling for the genocide of Jews would constitute a violation of their institutions’ anti-harassment policies.

“It can be, depending on the context,” the Harvard president told the congresswoman.

“Anti-Semitic speech when it crosses into conduct that amounts to bullying, harassment, intimidation—that is actionable conduct, and we do take action,” Ms. Gay explained as Ms. Stefanik continued to push her to give a “yes” or “no” answer to the question.

“This is why you should resign,” said Ms. Stefanik, unsatisfied with the response. “These are unacceptable answers across the board.”

Rep. Kevin Kiley (R-Calif.), also a Harvard graduate and member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, joined Ms. Stefanik’s call for Ms. Gay’s resignation.

“President Gay’s utterly inadequate response to the crisis of anti-Semitism on campus has had profoundly negative consequences at Harvard and beyond,” the congressman wrote in a post on X. “Her testimony before our committee confirmed, in the most shocking of ways, that she is not the leader these times require.”

The intense backlash to her testimony prompted Ms. Gay to issue an apology, admitting that she failed to properly condemn threats of violence against Jewish students.

“What I should have had the presence of mind to do in that moment was return to my guiding truth, which is that calls for violence against our Jewish community—threats to our Jewish students—have no place at Harvard and will never go unchallenged,” she told Harvard Crimson, a student newspaper.