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Rabbi Wolpe Resigns from Harvard Antisemitism Board After “Painfully Inadequate” Testimony

“The short explanation is that both events on campus and the painfully inadequate testimony reinforced the idea that I cannot make the sort of difference I had hoped,” Wolpe wrote.
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December 8, 2023
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images; Bill Ross/Getty Images

Rabbi David Wolpe, who left Sinai Temple in Los Angeles after 26 years to take a visiting scholar position at Harvard Divinity School, has resigned from the Harvard University Antisemitism Advisory Committee.

This comes two days after the presidents of Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) gave what Wolpe called “painfully inadequate testimony” at a hearing in the House of Representatives.

In a three-part statement posted to his account on X, formerly-known as Twitter, Wolpe explained his position.

“The short explanation is that both events on campus and the painfully inadequate testimony reinforced the idea that I cannot make the sort of difference I had hoped,” Wolpe wrote. “However, the system at Harvard along with the ideology that grips far too many of the students and faculty, the ideology that works only along axes of oppression and places Jews as oppressors and therefore intrinsically evil, is itself evil. Ignoring Jewish suffering is evil.”

Wolpe cited a lack of knowledge amongst students following a “herd mentality” as another reason for his resignation.

“Part of the problem is a simple herd mentality – people screaming slogans whose meaning and implication they know nothing of, or not wishing to be disliked by taking an unpopular position,” Wolpe wrote. “Some of it is the desire to achieve social status by being the sole or greatest victim.  Some of it is simple, old fashioned Jew hatred, that ugly arrow in the quiver of dark hearts for millennia.”

Wolpe added that he believes Harvard President Claudine Gay to be “both a kind and thoughtful person” and that the majority of the students at Harvard “only to get an education and a job, not prosecute ideological agendas, and there are many, many honorable, thoughtful and good people at the institution.”

On December 5, while appearing before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, President Gay, Penn President Liz Magill and MIT President Sally Kornbluth of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) were asked if “calling for the genocide of Jews” was against the colleges’ conduct of conduct.

“It is at odds with the values of Harvard, we embrace a commitment to free expression, even of views that are objectionable, offensive, hateful,” Gay responded. “It’s when that speech crosses into conduct that violates our policies against bullying, harassment and intimidation.”

When pressed, Gay continued, “We take action and we have robust disciplinary policies that allow us to hold individuals accountable. Given students’ rights to privacy and our obligations under [Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act] FERPA, I will not say more about any specific cases other than to reiterate that processes are on-going.”

Harvard’s Hillel posted a reaction to Gay’s testimony on Facebook later in the day.

“President Gay’s failure to properly condemn this speech calls into question her ability to protect Jewish students on Harvard’s campus,” the Hillel statement read. “Chants to ‘globalize the intifada,’ an endorsement of violent terrorist attacks against Jewish and Israeli civilians, and ‘from the river to the sea,’ an eliminationist slogan intended to deprive Jews of their right to self-determination in Israel, have become tragically routine at Harvard.”

Harvard University’s official X account posted a statement the next day appearing to backtrack from Gay’s testimony on Capitol Hill:

“Statement from President Gay: There are some who have confused a right to free expression with the idea that Harvard will condone calls for violence against Jewish students. Let me be clear: Calls for violence or genocide against the Jewish community, or any religious or ethnic group are vile, they have no place at Harvard, and those who threaten our Jewish students will be held to account.”

Gay spoke at Harvard Hillel on October 27, saying that “to begin the vital work of eradicating antisemitism from our community, I have assembled a group of advisors whose wisdom, experience, and counsel will help guide us forward.” Thirteen days later, Gay announced the members and a six-pronged mission of the committee.

About an hour-and-a-half prior to posting his resignation from the Harvard Antisemitism Advisory Committee, Wolpe posted a video to his X account celebrating the first night of Hanukkah.

“This year, we put [the Hanukiah] in the window to also say ‘we are not afraid,” Wolpe said. “Chag Hanukkah Sameach.”

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