To equate Israel, a country that grants full rights to all citizens, both Jewish and Arab, to apartheid-era South Africa, is the epitome of fake news. It’s sensationalistic, sparks outrage, and is unequivocally false. At The Harvard Crimson, contributing opinion writer Lucas Koerner succumbs to and indeed promotes this cheap fiction in his recent article titled “Boycott Israeli Apartheid: If Not Now, When?”
In his piece, Koerner demands that Harvard University sever all economic and academic ties with the state of Israel and support the notoriously anti-Semitic BDS movement. He uses his status “as a Jew” to falsely accuse Israel of ethnic cleansing and settler-colonialism, and advocates for Harvard to pressure the new presidential administration to cut military aid to the state. Koerner’s article, which is riddled with inaccuracies, is emblematic of the anti-Israel culture on college campuses today and is especially worrying due to his position as a Ph.D. candidate at the university.
First, let us take note that, despite the globally recognized genocide of Uyghur Muslims perpetrated by the Chinese government, Koerner does not advocate that Harvard sever ties with China. Instead, it is Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, that he wishes to hold accountable. He makes no mention of the Harvard University-China Scholarship Council Exchange program, which sends Harvard students to study in Chinese universities.
Does Koerner believe that only Israel should be boycotted? Apparently so, because he urges Harvard to cut off the Wexner Foundation scholarship to Israeli students, as if these Israeli academics are single-minded, two-dimensional caricatures who are all guilty of war crimes. Such general characterization based on ethnicity would be characterized as nothing short of racism if it were leveled against any other country in the Middle East.
In a similar display of ignorance and a presupposed double standard, Koerner recklessly frames Israeli military action as violations of international law on the basis that there have been tragic civilian casualties in the most recent conflict between Israel and Hamas.
What Koerner fails to mention is that the 4,300 rockets fired into Israel during the 11-day conflict were not aimed at military targets. Instead, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad launched rockets into the heart of Tel Aviv, into the nation’s capital of Jerusalem and into the seaside cities of Ashkelon and Ashdod.
Hamas’s indiscriminate attacks on civilians are not new, nor is the widespread apathy towards such assaults. But rather than acknowledging the clear and present war crimes committed by Hamas and the riots on the Temple Mount actively endorsed by the Palestinian Authority, Koerner prefers to blame America’s closest Middle Eastern ally. While any loss of civilian life in a conflict is deeply unfortunate, it is not, as Koerner asserts, necessarily a violation of international law. In fact, Israel has gone to great lengths to minimize civilian casualties in Gaza, and by available metrics, has been highly successful in that regard. The Israeli government has made clear its targets and has sought to destroy Hamas military strongholds, intelligence bases and missile-launching pads. These locations are, in violation of international law, placed by Hamas under hospitals, in mosques and in schools.
Yet these reprehensible acts are not enough to raise Koerner’s ire. Rather, he claims that Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz requested $1 billion in “weapons reveals” from the U.S. government and urges the administration to deny that appeal. In reality, the money was not intended for weapons but for the funding of the Israeli Iron Dome, an air-defense system used for the interception of rocket fire from Gaza. With this fallacy, Koerner is purposely playing word games to paint funding for purely defensive, lifesaving technology as aggressive militarism. This is deceitful on every level. Furthermore, rather than alleviating the plight of the Palestinians, following through on such a proposition would merely increase Israeli casualties, thereby necessitating a more forceful Israeli response, which would simply cause more Palestinian suffering. With his proposal, Koerner shows he is unaware of the lifesaving properties the Iron Dome offers to both sides of the conflict, or that he simply doesn’t care.
Koerner obviously believes that his position “as a Jew” qualifies him to engage in heinous acts of racism and misrepresentation that perpetuate the lie that Israel is an apartheid state. Ultimately, it is not the job of the Israeli government to allow more Israelis to die in order to pander to the double standards commentators like Koerner endorse. Rather, it is the obligation of all pro-Palestinian supporters to recognize that supporting the Palestinians should not mean demonizing Israel and that no cause justifies anti-Semitism, even if the advocate is Jewish himself.
Lastly, we cannot ignore that Koerner, at the very least, sympathizes with terrorists. For example, in 2014, he tweeted a quote from an article that expressed unconditional support for Hamas. In 2009, he went so far as to state that “Hamas is not a terrorist organization, but rather the only democratically elected government of the entire Arab world.” This, compounded with his position as a Ph.D. student, affords him the ability to potentially poison the minds of young students through his radicalism. As Harvard produces the leaders of tomorrow, this is something to which we cannot turn a blind eye and should condemn in the strongest of terms.
Tehilla Katz is a 2021-2022 CAMERA on Campus Fellow at Hebrew University.
A slightly different version of this article was published in JNS.