January 25, 2024

Shalem Graduate Calls Out Harvard on Support for Hamas

In the weeks following the brutal Hamas attack on Israelis on October 7th, people were shocked by the virulent pro-Hamas protests that erupted at America’s most elite universities. Even more, they were shocked by those same university leaders’ timid responses. For J.J. Kimche ’19, however, that shock took on a deeply personal dimension: He shares classrooms and libraries with these Hamas supporters as a Harvard doctoral student.

Kimche, a graduate of Shalem’s third class, is currently pursuing a PhD at Harvard in modern European thought and Jewish intellectual history. The son of a family of renowned British rabbis and Jewish educators, Kimche is also himself a teacher of classic Jewish texts: In Israel, while pursuing his degree at Shalem, he taught at a prominent yeshiva for English-speaking high-school graduates, while in Cambridge he served for three years as the Orthodox educator at MIT Hillel. In addition, he is deeply involved in the global Jewish conversation, both as a student, a researcher, a writer, and now, as the host of The Podcast of Jewish Ideas, which engages notable scholars from across the English-speaking world in conversation on Jewish themes. He was therefore aware, he explained in a recent op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, of the wide range of feelings on the part of Harvard’s Jewish students toward pro-Palestinian groups on campus before October 7th.

“Some sympathize with their cause; others see them as hostile; most ignore them. By and large, we have been happy to regard members of such groups as fellow travelers on the journey of discovery,” he wrote. “But during a moment of stunning moral clarity—such as the live-streaming of masked terrorists gleefully machine-gunning Jewish families—one would expect fellow students of all political persuasions to unite in horror and condemnation. The deepest political differences can be tolerated if we all abide by a basic framework of decency.”

It was precisely that framework that was missing when, on October 8th, more than 31 student groups on Harvard’s campus reacted to the news of Hamas’ murder, torture, rape, and kidnapping of Israelis with a statement of “unwavering support for the resistance in Gaza.” So, too, was it missing from Harvard’s leaders’ subsequent statement, which only mildly criticized Hamas and made no mention of its students’ overwhelming support for their atrocities. And finally, it was glaringly absent from then-President Claudine Gay’s recent congressional testimony on antisemitism on campus, a key cause of her forced resignation last month.

For Kimche, who is the grandson of an Auschwitz survivor and student of German-Jewish history, Harvard’s failure to respond was not only cause for profound concern and disappointment. It was also the beginning of an outspoken campaign, which included both the piece in The Wall Street Journal and a forceful appearance on CNN, Fox News, and various radio shows. In each instance, he not only called out pro-Hamas supporters as the danger to Jewish students that they are, but also called on university leadership—at Harvard and elsewhere—to take action before it’s too late. Recently, his calls were amplified by the decision of a group of fellow Jewish students to file a lawsuit alleging that the university is failing to protect its Jewish students and choosing not to enforce its own policies against their harassment.

Beyond calling on Harvard’s leaders to ensure the safety of its Jewish students—which includes, he insists, an unequivocal condemnation of pro-Hamas support—Kimche also wants them to do something even more difficult: engage in self-reflection. After all, he points out, if the pro-Hamas fervor that has swept American universities reveals anything, it is an essential flaw in their education.

“The fact that someone can spend four years at Harvard University and come out shrugging his shoulders or even smiling at the murder of women and children shows that there is a deep problem at the very heart of the education he’s received,” Kimche concludes. While recognizing that academics have a long history of endorsing the most appalling ideologies and movements, he nonetheless urges Harvard and other universities to stand on the right side of Israel’s war against Hamas.

If they don’t, he warns, the “golden age” for American Jewish students at their nation’s universities will come to a bitter end.

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