Harvard Graduation Marred by Anti-Semitism Controversy as Speaker Accuses Critics of Smearing Her for ‘Money and Power’

Commencement speaker Maria Ressa employs anti-Semitic trope to blast critics, prompting Harvard rabbi to walk off the stage

May 28, 2024

Harvard University’s commencement ceremonies were disrupted last week when the keynote speaker, Maria Ressa, a 2021 Nobel Peace Prize recipient and the president and CEO of the Philippines-based Rappler, employed an anti-Semitic trope to attack her critics, arguing that they are after "money and power."

"Because I accepted your invitation to be here today, I was attacked online and called anti-Semitic by money and power because they want money and power," she told Harvard graduates during the May 23 ceremony.

Ressa’s reference was to critics, including Rep. Elise Stefanik (R., N.Y.), who had accused her of anti-Semitism following a Washington Free Beacon report on an editorial published by the Rappler in November 2023 that likened Israel’s conduct of the war in Gaza to Hitler’s persecution of the Jews during World War II.

Ressa’s remarks from the dais, which echoed anti-Semitic tropes about Jewish wealth and influence, led Harvard Chabad Rabbi Hirschy Zarchi, who was seated on stage for commencement proceedings, to walk off the stage, according to the Harvard Crimson.

Zarchi, the head of Harvard's Chabad Center for Jewish Life, told the Free Beacon that he "approached [Ressa] as the ceremony was coming to an end to ask her to consider taking the opportunity to clarify—publicly—what she meant by saying that she was accused of being antisemitic 'by power and money, because they want power and money.'"

"When she tried to justify and explain her characterization, it became clear to me that there was nothing more for me to say in that moment and I promptly walked off."

Originally published in Tagalog, a language spoken in the Philippines, the Rappler’s executive editor, Glenda M. Gloria, told Time magazine that the Free Beacon had misrepresented the article and had not provided an "accurate translation."

But a second translation commissioned by the Free Beacon from Anna Katarina Rodriguez, the former executive director of the Commission on Filipino Language, confirms the accuracy of the original translation cited in the May 3 Free Beacon report

Rodriguez’s translation indicates the Rappler’s November 2023 editorial stated the following:

It is with great irony that the race that for centuries, suffered oppression, even genocide at the hands of Adolf Hitler, is the same race that is now depriving the Palestinians of this same dream. According to [sociologist Randy] David, ‘Yesterday’s oppressed have become today’s oppressors.’

Comparisons between Israel and Nazi Germany, as well as holding Israel to standards not applied to other countries, could be considered anti-Semitic under the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's working definition.

"Her classic anti-Semitic rhetoric was all the more revealing when she went on in her address to slander Israel by falsely including Gaza on her list of places where a genocide is occurring," added Zarchi, a reference to remarks Ressa made in her May 23 Harvard address. "Of course, she said nothing about the greatest massacre against the Jewish people since the Holocaust, and the continued genocidal attempts on the Jewish people by Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran."

After the event, Ressa told the Crimson that her remarks were directed at Stefanik, who had cited the Free Beacon’s May 3 about the Rappler’s comparison of Israel’s conduct to that of the Nazis.

A spokesman for Harvard, Jonathan Swain, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The Rappler editorial included additional attacks on Israel, including claims that the Jewish state has "paleolithic instincts" when it comes to war.

"It is clear that Israel has taken a disproportional response, not merely intended to retaliate but to wage an all-out war," said the editorial. "Israel, by deploying its godlike technology, reveals its paleolithic instincts by disregarding the distinctions between civilians and its enemy, the Hamas."

The paper called for an Israeli ceasefire, and concluded the editorial with another reference to Hitler.

"We want to believe that our world is more modern, enlightened, and compassionate compared with the time of Adolf Hitler or the dropping of the atomic bomb upon Hiroshima," the editorial said. "It appears that this is the challenge of our times, humanity must rise to the occasion and demonstrate that we are, by equal measure, human and humane."