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Harvard Alumni Condemn University Leadership Following Viral Video of Confrontation at Pro-Palestine Protest

Marshals at an Oct. 18 pro-Palestine "die-in" demonstration attempted to block the camera of a Harvard Business School student who was filming protesters' faces.
Marshals at an Oct. 18 pro-Palestine "die-in" demonstration attempted to block the camera of a Harvard Business School student who was filming protesters' faces. By Frank S. Zhou
By Joyce E. Kim and Nia L. Orakwue, Crimson Staff Writers

Prominent alumni condemned University leadership in recent weeks in the form of two open letters, both of which criticized administrators for failing to confront what one described as a “meteoric rise in antisemitism” on Harvard’s campus.

Both letters — one authored by Harvard Business School alumni William W. Helman IV, Joanna M. Jacobson, Seth A. Klarman, Mark E. Nunnelly, and Mitt Romney and the other written by Bill A. Ackman ’88 — cited a viral video of an Oct. 18 pro-Palestine “die-in” protest at HBS posted on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

The video depicts several organizers confronting a man, who was identified as an Israeli student in other outlets, and escorting him away after he began walking around the die-in and filming protesters’ faces. Organizers repeatedly told him to “exit” and blocked his camera with their security vests and keffiyehs — traditional Palestinian scarves.

The Jewish student, who can be heard saying “Don’t touch me,” came into physical contact with the protesters as he dodged their keffiyehs. As the student left, demonstrators shouted “shame” after him.

A version of the video posted with the caption “Harvard students attacking a Jewish student on campus during an anti-Israel protest” received more than 15,000 likes and more than 6,000 reposts and sparked severe criticism from Harvard affiliates.

“How are these students not immediately suspended? How does this not violate Harvard’s code of conduct for students?” Ackman wrote in a Nov. 1 post on X. “How would Harvard respond if the affected student were Black, Latino or LGBTQIA?”

In a post on X Sunday, the Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee addressed the viral video, writing that the organizers who directed the student to leave were trained “student marshals” in place to ensure protest safety. According to the post, marshals used the “non-violent, de-escalatory practice” of public pressure to deter the man, who had been recording demonstrators’ faces.

“Widely circulated footage has been contorted to suggest that the individual was harassed due to his identity,” the PSC wrote in the statement. “Nothing could be further from the truth. We simply wanted to prevent him from putting more students at risk.”

The man filming the viral video, according to the PSC statement, eyewitness accounts, and aerial news footage, had been stepping over demonstrators and recording their faces as they lay on the ground — a sequence of events corroborated by The Crimson’s initial reporting.

According to University spokesperson Jason A. Newton, the incident is being investigated by the FBI and the Harvard University Police Department.

“In line with its standard practice, once law enforcement’s inquiry is complete, the University will address the incident through its student disciplinary procedures to determine if University policies or codes of conduct have been violated, and if so, take appropriate action,” Newton wrote in an emailed statement.

In a statement to school affiliates on Oct. 24, HBS Dean Srikant M. Datar condemned antisemitism and doxxing and detailed additional steps the administration was taking to ensure “the safety and well-being” of students.

“The pro-Palestinian demonstration that crossed from Cambridge onto our campus last Wednesday, which included a troubling confrontation between one of our MBA students and a subset of the protestors, has left many of our students shaken,” Datar wrote. “The facts are being evaluated, and it will be some time before we learn the results of an investigation.”

Corinne Shanahan, a student at the Law School who attended the protest, said she believed the man was filming demonstrators “in bad faith, either to intimidate or dox them.”

Tigs Louis-Puttick, another protester who participated in the die-in, said she felt “pretty unsafe” as the man stepped over her body.

“He was walking over people, making them feel quite uncomfortable and in danger,” Louis Puttick said.

Shanahan said she “wholeheartedly” rejects criticism of the PSC marshals’ actions as violent.

One of the safety marshals, Ibrahim I. Bharmal — a student at the Law School and an editor at the Harvard Law Review — was singled out online after he was identified in the viral video.

“How does this man remain Editor of the Harvard Law Review?” Ackman wrote in his Nov. 1 post.

Bharmal declined to comment for this article.

Pro-Palestine demonstrators hosted a "die-in" at Harvard Business School on Oct. 18.
Pro-Palestine demonstrators hosted a "die-in" at Harvard Business School on Oct. 18. By Joey Huang

The HBS alumni letter, which was originally released on Oct. 23, described the interaction between protesters and the student as a “violent assault” and urged University leadership to take action to manage campus protests.

The letter urged the University to restate and enforce its moral code of conduct, require all protesters be enrolled Harvard students, only permit scheduled protests, and mandate all students enroll in a “semester-long course that teaches productive discourse, critical thinking and the interrogation of facts.”

“The expressions of hate and vitriol against Jews have continued and strengthened over the last week on Harvard’s campuses,” the letter reads. “The threatening, violent protests by pro-Palestinian groups on Harvard campuses become more heinous with each passing day.”

“Given that Harvard has been vocal in its advocacy for the rights of students from other religious, racial and ethnic groups, this silence, amidst the meteoric rise in antisemitism, is deafening,” it continues.

Newton declined to comment further, citing a Friday message from University President Claudine Gay reaffirming Harvard’s Vietnam-era code of conduct, which was originally issued in response to fiery anti-war protests that swept campus. Newton also referenced campus closures in recent weeks.

Ackman, a billionaire hedge fund manager, wrote in his Nov. 4 letter to the University that he had “lost confidence” in Gay and her administration. He specifically mentioned Gay’s video address where she stated that Harvard “embraces a commitment to free expression” and rejected calls to punish student activists.

“You sent a clear message that the eliminationist and antisemitic statements of the protesters are permissible on campus,” Ackman wrote to Gay. “Unfortunately, Harvard has not embraced a serious commitment to free speech, particularly so in recent years.”

Newton declined to comment on Ackman’s statement.

After an uptick in student doxxing, Harvard last month established a task force to support students who were doxxed or dealing with online harassment. On Oct. 27, Harvard also announced the establishment of an advisory group to combat antisemitism on campus.

In his letter, Ackman wrote that he believes the creation of the doxxing task force communicated “that the University was not just ignoring the antisemitic incidents and threats to Jewish student safety on campus, but rather it was taking sides in the conflict by only supporting students who held Israel responsible for Hamas’ vile acts.”

Ackman’s letter called for seven specific actions from the University, which he outlined in his letter — including the suspension of students involved in the HBS confrontation and disciplinary actions taken towards students chanting “eliminationist” statements, specifically referencing the phrase “from the river to the sea.”

“Successfully addressing antisemitism at Harvard and creating an environment with true freedom of expression will become a critically important part of your legacy as the Harvard community works together to address these challenges at a difficult time in world history,” Ackman wrote.

—Staff writer Joyce E. Kim can be reached at joyce.kim@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Nia L. Orakwue can be reached at nia.orakwue@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @nia_orakwue.

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