Harvard Palestine Solidarity Committee: The "Harvard Crimson" Editorial Signifies a Political Shift on Campus
Date: 
July 29, 2022

On May 8th, 2002, the Harvard Crimson Staff, published an article entitled “Do Not Divest From Israel,” responding to a petition from a group of Harvard and MIT professors calling for divestment “from Israeli companies and from companies that do business in Israel.” The article  details the anticipated dangers of divestment, and denounces the use of the apartheid framework by referencing to Israel’s right to “defend” itself, denying Israel’s human rights violations, and asserting  that legal equality exists for “all of [Israel’s] citizens, both Jewish and Arab.”

Twenty years later, on April 29th, 2022, the Harvard Crimson editorial board drew international attention for its editorial “In Support of Boycott, Divest, Sanctions and a Free Palestine,” an unequivocal, and unprecedented endorsement of the “Boycott, Divest, and Sanction movement as a means to” achieve the goals of ending apartheid and supporting Palestinian liberation. After decades of shying away from the endorsement, including a 2020 editorial that maintained the 2002 position of viewing BDS as “too blunt a tool” and declaring that the campaign “does not get at the nuances and particularities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” the decision of the Harvard Crimson editorial board was surreal. 

At a university where conversations about Palestine are frequently met with “it’s complicated” or “it’s too controversial,” and where mobilization is met with pushback on the student and institutional level, Palestine activism is anything but easy. Too often, our campus has been hostile towards Palestinian students and the Harvard Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC). In the Spring, our annual Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) programming was attacked  by Harvard Hillel’s Israel Initiative due to the statement “Zionism is racism,” which we painted on our eight-foot wall art installation. The mock wall signified protest against the Apartheid Wall in Palestine. The Harvard Israel Initiative sent emails and made social media posts expressing anger against PSC’s initiative, which prompted protests against the IAW programming in Harvard Yard.  PSC did not only receive criticism from other student organizations – detractors held positions of power ranging from well-resourced alumni to institutionally-backed individuals on Haravard’s payroll. 

PSC has hosted speakers, organized rallies, led walkouts, and advocated for Palestinian human rights on Harvard’s campus for decades. Generations of activists before us have called on the campus community to give attention to the colonial apartheid system in Palestine, as well as the very real way in which Harvard is complicit. In February 2020, we launched our divestment campaign, Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine (HOOP). The campaign demands that the University disclose its direct and indirect investments in companies complicit in human rights abuses towards Palestinians, divest such holdings, and reinvest in Palestinian history, culture, and communities. 

Broadly inspired by BDS, HOOP is our attempt at holding Harvard accountable for its complicity in apartheid, and its funding of the oppression of the Palestinian people. Our goal is simple: put apartheid out of business by listening to Palestinian voices and centering their work towards justice in our own work. After continuing virtual PSC activity during the 2020-2021 academic year, we returned to campus this year with increased emphasis on addressing Harvard’s relationship with occupation and apartheid. From launching a campaign to boycott Sabra Hummus in dining halls, which drew positive responses from several residential house administrators, to our weekly protests against a Harvard Kennedy School study group led by a retired Israeli military general who abetted war crimes, we are seeing slow but real shifts in the way Palestine is discussed and approached on campus. Our campaign against the Hillel-sponsored Israeli Trek – led largely by former members of the Israeli Occupation Forces – resulted in five students boycotting the trip this year. 

After a successful week of IAW programming in the Spring, the April 22nd, 2022 issue of the Harvard Crimson published a front-page article titled “Apartheid Week Draws Backlash” in its print version. The Harvard Crimson has historically been a platform for anti-PSC pushback. News articles about our events and campaigns have repeatedly framed our work as too radical and controversial, calling the Palestinian cause “too complicated” to take a stance on. This history is precisely where the power of this editorial lies. The Harvard Crimson editorial board’s unequivocal endorsement of the BDS campaign was not only an unexpected change of opinion, but also evidence of a larger shift in the political climate on campus and beyond in light of years of advocacy and mobilization. On April 29th, 2022, the board was able to recognize and verbalize the crucial role that Palestine plays in discourses about social justice at the national and global level, and the hypocrisy of exceptionalizing Palestine when discussing racism, colonialism, and oppression.

To quote the Harvard Crimson editorial from 2002: “there is a time and place for everything, including divestment.” Thanks to years of advocacy and steadfastness on the part of activists and civil society groups across the country and in Palestine, it seems like now is finally the time.

About The Author: 

The Harvard College Palestine Solidarity Committee, founded in 2002, is a non-sectarian student organization dedicated to supporting the Palestinian struggle for self-determination, justice, and equality through raising awareness, advocacy, and non-violent resistance.

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