Former Harvard Hillel head: antisemitism is being ‘weaponized’


In an article for the Harvard Crimson on Friday, Bernie Steinberg, who served as executive director of Harvard Hillel from 1993-2010, denounced what he called the “cynical weaponization of antisemitism by powerful forces who seek to intimidate and ultimately silence legitimate criticism of Israel and American policy on Israel.” 

“As a leader in the Jewish community,” Steinberg wrote, “I am particularly alarmed by today’s McCarthyist tactic of manufacturing an antisemitism scare, which, in effect, turns the very real issue of Jewish safety into a pawn in a cynical political game to cover for Israel’s deeply unpopular policies with regard to Palestine.”

Antisemitic incidents in America have surged since war broke out between Israel and Hamas on October 7, as they have around the world. Steinberg stated his concern over antisemitism several times in the piece, adding that the “most pressing” source of antisemitism was the far-right. 

“I have monitored, with vigilance, the kinds of speech that Israel-aligned parties are calling ‘antisemitic,’” Steinberg wrote, “and it simply does not pass the sniff test.” 

Steinberg’s article appeared as part of a package published by the Crimson, including other pieces with different points of view.

Harvard University President Claudine Gay attends a House Education and The Workforce Committee hearing titled ”Holding Campus Leaders Accountable and Confronting Antisemitism” on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., December 5, 2023. (credit: KEN CEDENO/REUTERS)

Steinberg rejects “effort to smear” embattled university president

Steinberg, who lived in Jerusalem for thirteen years, described recent campaigns against Harvard president Claudine Gay as an “effort to smear” the university leader, rejecting what he called “the ludicrous charges that she somehow supports genocide against Jews”— a reference to backlash Gay received after a hearing in Congress in which she, along with several other university presidents, declined to declare calls for genocide a violation of school policy in and of themselves. 

Steinberg did not address the allegations of plagiarism that have followed Gay since that hearing raised her public profile. An internal investigation found that the university president may have violated Harvard’s academic standards in half of her 11 published articles, according to a report in the New York Times.


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