Harvard-Epworth United Methodist Church, Cambridge
Harvard-Epworth United Methodist Church view in Cambridge Massachusetts, USA

Too Pure for Harvard?

Originally published at RealClear Politics

The BDS — or Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions — movement began in 2005 as a progressive effort to defund and isolate Israel. The goal has been to pull money from Israeli institutions, isolate the Jewish State and stoke cowardice in corporate boardrooms.

Now pro-Israeli partisans have picked up the BDS cudgel — a sorry sign that in 2023, intimidation trumps persuasion.

In that spirit, on Monday, former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan backed out of commitments at Harvard to protest “Harvard’s failure to immediately and forcefully denounce the anti-Semitic vitriol” behind the horrific Oct. 7 Hamas attacks that left 1,400 Israelis dead.

Hogan was reacting to a statement released by students aligned with the Harvard Palestine Solidarity Committee that held “the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence.”

Problem: These kids got into Harvard. They should know better. They should know that Hamas is responsible for the atrocities committed by its soldiers.

Other problem: The former GOP governor’s response should not have been to cancel himself, but to invite a robust exchange of ideas.

Instead, he chose virtue-signaling, the shortcut version.

Summers was especially displeased at Harvard’s reticence in renouncing Hamas as compared to its quick denunciation after Russia invaded Ukraine.

In short order, Harvard President Claudine Gay denounced Hamas.

Still, it is important to remember that Hamas is the villain of this nightmare, not any person tangentially tied to Hamas. Especially college students, who by nature make mistakes.

I can’t help but think of the immortal words of former President George W. Bush, who said, “When I was young and stupid, I was young and stupid.”

As the controversy percolated, billionaire hedge fund CEO Bill Ackman had suggested public shaming of misguided students as he called on Harvard to release a list of members of the pro-Hamas student groups “to ensure that none of us inadvertently hire any of their members.”

I appreciate Ackman’s goal — hey, I wouldn’t want one of these ideologues managing my money or tapping into my payroll. But like Hogan, Ackman went too far.

As a CEO, Ackman is free to look into any statements made by potential employees and consider whether their viewpoints are a good fit with his shop. Policing politics, however, is not Harvard’s mission.

Harvard’s job is to educate students, to introduce rigor into their thinking and to encourage debate.

Not shut it down.

Summers cautioned on “Wall Street Week Daily” that “asking for lists of names, that’s the stuff of Joe McCarthy.”

Former Harvard President Larry Summers had a better take when he criticized Hamas apologists on X (formerly known as Twitter). “Harvard is being defined by the morally unconscionable statement apparently coming from two dozen student groups blaming all the violence on Israel,” Summers wrote. “I am sickened. I cannot fathom the administration’s failure to disassociate the University and condemn this statement.”

Debra J. Saunders

Fellow, Chapman Center for Citizenship Leadership
A fellow with Discovery Institute’s Chapman Center for Citizen Leadership, Debra J. Saunders worked for more than thirty years covering politics on the ground and in Washington, as well as American culture, the news media, the criminal justice system, and dubious trends in public schools and prestigious universities. Her column is nationally syndicated with Creators Syndicate.