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‘Unmistakably Antisemitic’: Harvard College Dean Khurana Slams Student Groups Over Instagram Post

Dean Khurana speaks to The Crimson in an interview on Tuesday afternoon. Khurana condemned an antisemitic image posted by two pro-Palestine student groups.
Dean Khurana speaks to The Crimson in an interview on Tuesday afternoon. Khurana condemned an antisemitic image posted by two pro-Palestine student groups. By Addison Y. Liu

Dean of Harvard College Rakesh Khurana condemned an antisemitic image posted by two pro-Palestine student groups during an interview on Tuesday, calling the post “unmistakably antisemitic and racist.”

“It’s become clear that some members of our community are intent on testing the limits of how low discourse can go — and it now appears that we are hitting rock bottom,” Khurana said.

The antisemitic image was jointly posted on Instagram Sunday by the Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee and the African and African American Resistance Organization. The image depicted a hand, branded with the Star of David and a dollar sign in its center, holding a noose around the necks of who appear to be Muhammad Ali and Gamal Abdel Nasser, a former president of Egypt.

“Finding words to express my disgust at what I saw is hard,” Khurana said. “I’m aware that after public condemnation, the offensive images have been taken down, but this bell cannot be unrung.”

The image — which was reposted by Harvard Faculty and Staff for Justice in Palestine, a newly-formed pro-Palestine group of faculty and staff — faced swift backlash on social media from Harvard affiliates who condemned the faculty members for amplifying antisemitic tropes. Walter Johnson, a professor of history and African and African American Studies, resigned from his position on FSJP and as the faculty adviser to the PSC on Wednesday.

Harvard has faced increasing scrutiny for its handling of antisemitism on its campus since the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel — including an ongoing congressional investigation and a lawsuit brought by six Jewish students alleging the University’s failure to address antisemitism on campus.

The University strongly condemned the antisemitic image on Monday evening and announced it was investigating the post. Interim Harvard President Alan M. Garber ’76 personally denounced the image in a University-wide email Tuesday evening.

While the two groups that posted the original image deleted it and issued an apology, many affiliates, including Garber and Khurana, said it was too little, too late.

In Tuesday evening statements to The Crimson, members of the PSC and AFRO reiterated their regret for including the image on the original post.

“We deeply regret the harm we caused our campus community and take accountability for our oversight by continuing to learn from our peers and stand in solidarity as we fight all forms of discrimination — antisemitism, anti-Black racism, and anti-Palestinian discrimination,” the groups wrote.

During the interview, Khurana also addressed controversy surrounding the University’s decision to update its protest guidelines ahead of the spring semester, which some affiliates criticized as an effort to suppress protests on campus following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

Khurana said while the College believes protesting is “part of democratic traditions,” the protest guidelines serve to ensure student safety and well-being, which he insisted was the College’s top priority.

“We live on an open campus. It’s really important that when these protests happen that we have a sense of how to keep them safe,” he said.

Khurana also encouraged recognized student groups that are organizing protests to work with the Dean of Students Office so that the Office can “provide clear guidance.”

“The administration has — I have — always tried to, whenever possible, stand and be witness at a student protest,” Khurana said. “It’s been a regular part of the College’s practice.”

Last semester, students faced disciplinary action by the Harvard College Administrative Board — a committee chaired by Khurana that is responsible for the enforcement of undergraduate policies and rules — for their pro-Palestine activism.

Eight undergraduates faced disciplinary hearings before the Ad Board after a 24-hour occupation of University Hall in November.

Four undergraduate students also faced Ad Board hearings for their involvement in a November pro-Palestine “week of action,” during which protestors disrupted classes while chanting on megaphones.

The College’s disciplinary process has come under heightened scrutiny since the House Committee on Education and the Workforce launched its investigation into Harvard. In particular, the committee has requested documents related to how the University has disciplined instances of antisemitism on campus.

When asked if the College is considering different approaches to disciplinary practices, Khurana said that the College will continue to rely on its processes and “apply them in a content-neutral and consistent way.”

“I also hope that people understand that rules are critical, but they’re not our aspiration,” he said.

—Staff writer Michelle N. Amponsah can be reached at michelle.amponsah@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X at @mnamponsah.

—Staff writer Joyce E. Kim can be reached at joyce.kim@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X at @joycekim324.

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