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The Culture War at Harvard and Beyond

Most of the controversy around Harvard University President Claudine Gay’s forced resignation amounts to an unedifying mess of accusations and counter-accusations of racism – America’s great obsession. Still, the episode does reveal something interesting about changes in the perception of Jews over time.

NEW YORK – Claudine Gay, Harvard University’s first Black female president, was forced to resign after weeks of pressure to step down. But everyone involved in the controversy that pushed her out looks bad.

The ostensible reason for her ouster was sloppy academic writing – mostly the failure to credit other academics whom she quoted almost word for word in previously published work. But those discoveries followed allegations of anti-Semitism and double standards. When asked by Republican congresswoman Elise Stefanik whether student demonstrators “calling for the genocide of Jews violates Harvard’s code of conduct,” Gay replied that it “depends on the context.”

There is little doubt that if the question had referred to the genocide of Black people, context would not have been required. But Gay was walking into a nasty trap. Stefanik had deliberately blurred the distinction between calling for genocide and supporting a Palestinian intifada (armed rebellion). The latter may involve violence, but it is not genocidal.