Harvard Sanctions Two Rhodes Scholarship Recipients for Participating in Illegal Anti-Israel Encampment

Ivy League school withholds diplomas from Asmer Safi, Suhaas Bhat

Asmer Asrar Safi (L) and Suhaas Bhat ( and Twitter/@harvardphysics)
May 20, 2024

Harvard College sanctioned two of its Rhodes Scholarship recipients for their participation in the illegal anti-Israel encampment that plagued campus for weeks.

Undergraduate students Asmer Asrar Safi and Suhaas Bhat were among the 25 students placed on suspension or probation for their roles in the encampment, the students said. Both were in line to graduate this month but will no longer be allowed to do so. Safi, an encampment organizer and international student from Pakistan, planned to study "progressive political messaging" at Oxford, while Bhat planned to study "mathematical modeling and scientific computing as well as international health and tropical medicine." Safi has said he will now graduate in May of 2025, while Bhat did not respond to a request for comment on when he would receive a degree.

The pair’s status as Rhodes recipients reflects the scholarship's affinity for liberal activists. Just one of the 157 American Rhodes Scholars selected in the past five years "expressed interest in a right-leaning issue in their program biography," according to an American Enterprise Institute study. Prominent recipients include Chesa Boudin, the son of Weather Underground terrorists who was ousted from his role as San Francisco district attorney over soft-on-crime policies.

In Bhat's probation appeal to Harvard's Administrative Board, meanwhile, the sanctioned student said his "work as a fossil fuel divestment activist" is part of what earned him the scholarship in the first place. As a result, Bhat argued he should not be sanctioned for his encampment activism.

"Do these accolades mean anything if I do not actually live by the principles that they are recognizing?" he wrote in his statement to the board, part of which was obtained by the Harvard Crimson. "Am I no longer an ideal Harvard student if I ask the University to live up to its own principles?"

It's unclear whether Safi and Bhat will keep their scholarships, given that both were slated to start their studies at Oxford this fall upon their graduation. A spokeswoman for the Rhodes Trust, which administers the scholarship, has not commented publicly on the suspensions and declined to comment when asked whether the sanctioned recipients are in jeopardy.

On Friday, Bhat told a group of seniors gathered at a talent show he was slated to judge that Harvard "is not allowing me to graduate this semester for my participation in the encampment." One day later, Safi said Harvard is withholding his degree "until May of 2025, alongside 10 other graduating seniors."

"I think it's a good time to think about what it means to go to this University and what it means to have freedom of speech and what our moral obligations are when 40,000 innocent people die," Bhat said Friday, parroting a death toll from the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry. Roughly half of those killed are Hamas terrorists, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week.

Harvard and Safi did not return requests for comment.

All prospective Rhodes recipients at Harvard must receive an endorsement from their undergraduate institution before applying for the scholarship.

Safi, a social studies major at Harvard, has a long history of anti-Israel activism. In 2021, he authored an op-ed for the Crimson in which he accused Israel’s "apartheid regime" of imposing "a hegemonic, authoritarian rule over Palestinians." Roughly two years later, in September, he interrupted a ceremony featuring Harvard College dean Rakesh Khurana, saying the school "supports, upholds, and invests in Israeli apartheid and the oppression of Palestinians."

Harvard announced Safi had received a Rhodes scholarship in November, just two months after the ordeal. He went on to serve as a key encampment organizer, giving media interviews that demanded Harvard "disclose its investments in occupied Palestine" and "divest from all said investments and reinvest them in the propagation of Palestinian art, academia, literature, and culture."

Safi was also behind a student-led petition, passed in April, that aims to establish a student referendum on whether Harvard should divest from Israel.

Bhat, for his part, served as an organizer with Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard, a campus group that successfully pushed the Ivy League school to "divest its endowment from fossil fuels." Following Hamas's Oct. 7 terror attack on Israel, he continued his divestment activism to target the Jewish state. Harvard's Department of Physics issued a November statement congratulating Bhat for being named a Rhodes Scholar.

Harvard's commencement is scheduled for Thursday. Safi has called on those graduating to "speak out" against the sanctions.