Anti-Semitic Social Media Posts Roil Harvard Amid Federal Civil Rights Investigation

'Resistance is an honor' and 'there is no state called Israel,' says graduate student Abdullah Akl

Harvard University campus (Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
January 9, 2024

Harvard University is facing a federal investigation into campus anti-Semitism. But social media posts reviewed by the Washington Free Beacon show anti-Semitism on campus is not abating, and the school does not appear eager to address it.

A Harvard student seeking a master's degree in government, for example, has drawn the attention and concern of pro-Israel students on campus. That student, Abdullah Akl, is using his social media accounts to call for "Intifada" against Jews, contend "that there is no state called Israel," and encourage his followers to "teach your children that the Zionist entity is an enemy," according to posts reviewed by the Free Beacon.

"Zionist are indigenous to hell," Akl told his followers in another Instagram post.

Akl announced he would continue his "academic journey" at Harvard in May 2023, when he graduated from Long Island University-Brooklyn. Months later, Akl published an academic article under the Harvard name. MPower Change, the anti-Israel group cofounded by Linda Sarsour that employs Akl as a field organizer, lists Akl as a Harvard graduate student, as does Akl's LinkedIn. The Staten Island Advance wrote in October that Akl "is currently pursuing a master's degree in government from Harvard University."

Others on campus continue to promote anti-Semitic voices and events. Harvard Divinity School student Soaad Elbahwati sent a school-wide message pressing her classmates to promote a "teach-in" hosted by the Queer Muslim Solidarity Network and featuring the Palestinian poet "Mx. Yaffa."

A self-described "trans Muslim displaced indigenous Palestinian," Yaffa described Hamas's Oct. 7 terrorist attack on Israel as an act of "protest" and remarked that it was "about time" Hamas took action.

"The invalidity of protest in the eyes of the oppressor is what makes it valid," Yaffa's Oct. 7 Instagram post read. "If you think Palestinian protest is not valid then you have sided with our oppressors."

In addition to Elbahwati, at least one Harvard undergraduate student is cheering on terrorists who have attacked American troops. That student, Syd Sanders, took to Instagram to promote a Houthi attack on a commercial tanker in the Red Sea, writing, "Yemen doing the most." The Iran-backed group fired at American helicopters during a similar attack last month, prompting U.S. forces to sink three Houthi boats.

The social media posts come as Harvard faces a Department of Education investigation into its handling of anti-Semitic incidents on campus. The department launched the investigation in November, when it sent a letter to the school saying Harvard "discriminated against students on the basis of their national origin (shared Jewish ancestry and/or Israeli) when it failed to respond appropriately to reports of incidents and harassment," according to the Boston Globe.

Anti-Israel Harvard students have occupied campus buildings and disrupted classes to call for the Jewish state's eradication. They've also been videotaped accosting an Israeli classmate—Harvard has not explained how it is handling the incident.

A spokesman for Harvard did not respond to a request for comment.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told the Free Beacon that Akl, Elbahwati, and Sanders's social media posts should be included in the Department of Education's probe.

"When [Harvard] is being investigated on Title VI all of these elements should be investigated," he said. "How about Harvard begins to claw its way back from where it is right now and go back and set up some basic ethics."

Jewish students at Harvard say the school failed to display those ethics in the wake of Hamas's attack. Harvard Law School student Jonathan Frieden recounted during a December press conference an incident on campus in which "a mob of 200 people" flooded into a study room and led an anti-Semitic chant.

"Many of my friends ran up to the dean of students and DEI office, but they had locked their doors for their own safety," Frieden said. "We heard nothing from Harvard."

Then-president Claudine Gay nonetheless defended her efforts to combat campus anti-Semitism during a December congressional hearing, prompting intense criticism. Gay resigned weeks later amid mounting allegations of plagiarism in her academic work. While her interim replacement, Alan Garber, has expressed regret over Harvard's initial response to Hamas's attack—the school's statement did not condemn the terror group—it is yet to be seen if Garber will target campus anti-Semitism more aggressively.

Akl has a history of anti-Semitic activism. An organizer for Within Our Lifetime, a group that seeks the eradication of the Jewish state, he has led protesters in New York City to chant slogans such as, "There is only one solution! Intifada, revolution!" and "Resistance is justified when people are colonized!"

Sanders, meanwhile, participated in a Nov. 29 walkout on Harvard campus that saw students leave class to chant, "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free," an event that prompted Harvard to launch disciplinary proceedings against Sanders and three others. Sanders blamed the move on "right-wing politicians," whom he said threatened the school "to discipline peaceful pro-Palestinian speech and protest on Harvard's campus."

Elbahwati has worked to limit her online presence after a screenshot of her WhatsApp message promoting "Mx. Yaffa" surfaced online. The Harvard graduate student deleted her LinkedIn, which previously touted her "experience in immigration litigation with success in cancellation of removal in deportation proceedings." Elbahwati in 2021 served as an advisory member to the Council on American-Islamic Relations's Philadelphia chapter, which blamed Hamas's attack on "the Israeli government's apartheid policies."

"The key to achieving enduring peace remains addressing Israel's unlawful occupation of Palestinian lands, apartheid state policies, and the ongoing violations of Palestinian human rights," the chapter said in its Oct. 9 statement, which did not mention Hamas.

Akl, Elbahwati, and Sanders did not respond to requests for comment.