Harvard Professors on Israel Visit Describe ‘Existential Crisis’ for Jews Back Home–And Loss of Faith in DEI

Gabriel Kreiman (Andrew Tobin)
March 22, 2024

TEL AVIV—A group of Harvard University professors visited Israel this week in a show of wartime solidarity with the Jewish state. But the visitors seemed to be just as much in need of support as their hosts.

In a series of sessions at Tel Aviv University on Tuesday, members of the more-than-50-person delegation—which also included faculty from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford, Dartmouth, and Yale Universities, and elsewhere—described feeling abandoned and afraid on their campuses back home. Gabriel Kreiman, a professor at Harvard Medical School who organized the solidarity mission, said the faculty are liberals who broadly believe in "diversity, equity, and inclusion." Since Hamas's Oct. 7 terror attack on Israel, though, many have had their eyes opened to the anti-Semitic implications of the academy's regnant ideology.

"I don't think a lot of people here think DEI is going very well. They're very upset," Kreiman told the Washington Free Beacon. "I don't think they are ideologically opposed to the system. It's just the current version of DEI is full of double standards and is in many cases almost openly anti-Semitic."

"It seems that if a woman is raped, it’s terrible—unless she’s Jewish," Kreiman added, alluding to the muted international response to the atrocities of Oct. 7, which sparked the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza. "Jewish people have been extremely active over the last many years in efforts to fight for other minorities, and now it's our turn, and some of these other minorities are even attacking Jewish people."

Miri Bar-Halpern Hobin, an Israeli-American clinical psychologist who works with Harvard faculty, said she has felt "completely isolated and alone" in the aftermath of Oct. 7 and was in Israel "to go back to my roots, to feel the community."

"Part of it was, I guess, completely selfish," she told the Free Beacon. "I'm a big believer in post-traumatic growth. I think there's something about being helped and helping others. When you give, you get, I really do believe in that."

Bar-Halpern Hobin said she was "caught by surprise" by "the level of anti-Semitism that is now legit" in the Boston area.

"I think particularly because there are so many universities there, everybody is woke right now," she said. "It's OK to hate us. It's actually kind of cool."

Bar-Halpern Hobin, who has provided free therapy for university students and faculty upset by Oct. 7, said she was disappointed by how Jews have been excluded by institutions that preach DEI, "trauma-informed" care, "safety for all."

"Why do we need to justify our pain?" she said. "When, ever, has a traumatized person needed to justify one's suffering or been blamed for it? It's unheard of."

The solidarity mission, which wrapped on Thursday, came amid backlash against elite U.S. universities for their roles in an eruption of anti-Semitism following Oct. 7. Harvard is the target of a congressional probe, a lawsuit by Jewish students, and an alumni revolt over the administration's equivocal response to the attack and the subsequent anti-Israel activism on its campus. Harvard's former president Claudine Gay, was forced out in January after testifying before Congress that "calling for the genocide of Jews" may violate the university's rules against bullying and harassment "depending on the context."

Kreiman—who is Jewish and helped organize an Oct. 12 open letter criticizing Gay’s leadership—said: "I think this is almost an existential crisis for Israel and a pivotal moment for the Jewish people worldwide."

According to Kreiman, many of his colleagues support Israel but were hesitant to join the solidarity mission, in part for fear of "being harassed or attacked or losing opportunities" in their fields. Even among those who did sign on, most did not want to be publicly identified. The delegation has agreed that no member’s name or image will be shared online without permission.

"I am also concerned," Kreiman said. "I'm not so concerned that I won't be here, but I'm concerned."

Yair Jablinowitz, a manager at Israel Destination, a tour group that has run nearly a dozen post-Oct. 7 solidarity visits to Israel for university faculty, including the Harvard-led delegation, said many feel they must "put their jobs on the line" to come, "especially those who don’t have tenure."

"A lot of these people are more to the left," Jablinowitz told the Free Beacon. "The idea that we were able to bring these representatives from these universities to Israel to denounce anti-Semitism and stand with our Israeli brothers and sisters is a pretty big deal."

Susan Hess, a professor of social work at the University of Southern California and a self-described progressive activist, has also lost faith in DEI since Oct. 7. In recent years, Hess successfully lobbied her administration to add "antiracism" to its DEI training, making it "ADEI." But it has become clear to her that the racialized conception of justice she long championed excludes Jews like her.

"Now, Oct. 7, and I’m like, ‘Wait, what is happening?’" Hess told the Free Beacon. "This doesn’t make sense. Just because the majority of Jews in America have white skin, are Ashkenazi, it doesn't mean that we shouldn't be part of this, because we're experiencing oppression."

Hess said it took her two months of "pushing and pushing and pushing" to win approval for a faculty anti-Semitism training at USC's school of social work, and only on condition that Israel not be discussed.

"It's interesting because I didn't even have to have approval for having anyone come in and talk about anti-blackness," she said. "The vibe is definitely that Jews don't count."

Hess added: "I thought, ‘OK, I'm probably going to feel safer in Israel during the war than I feel right now in the States.’"

Tel Aviv University faculty told the delegation they have also be impacted by anti-Israel ideology on U.S. campuses, with needed funding and partnerships suddenly disappearing.

"We feel very lonely right now," Maureen Adiri Meyer, the director of Tel Aviv University's international program, said in an appeal to the U.S. faculty. "We're also very afraid for our young researchers and their opportunity to be able to advance in their career, of how it will look over the next months or years. Any opportunity that we can think about here to help us as a leading institution in Israel, the largest in Israel, to move forward and to be able to continue being who we are is extremely significant."

Harvard and USC referred the Free Beacon to their past statements condemning anti-Semitism.