A Disturbing Double Standard

Earlier this week Harvard Law Students received an email from Dean Minow that denounced a comment made by a student at a panel event featuring Tzipi Livni, a former Israeli foreign minster.

Something accidentally left out of Ms. Livni’s bio at the event (probably) was that a British court issued a warrant for her arrest for war crimes committed during the 2008-2009 offensive on Gaza. During that offensive, 1400 Palestinians died, mostly civilians; Israel says it was defending itself against Hamas rocket fire, 13 Israelis died. We’ve all tried to get out of events we didn’t want to attend before but “soz I can’t come, I might get arrested for war crimes” is an excuse that can probably only be used by about two other people, like maybe Al-Bashir and Karadžić, tops.

There are many questions that one might have for Tzipi Livni. Why did you bomb UN schools? How can you deny the humanitarian crisis in Gaza? What moisturiser do you use to give you that youthful genocidal glow? But instead, a student asked about why the speaker was smelly.

This sounded oddly familiar. Earlier this semester, I went to an event for the free tabouli and falafel, which was excellent by the way, and the same student protested a Palestinian speaker, by holding up a sign saying, “YOU ARE A SMELLY LIAR”. Harvard University Police Department officers ejected him from the event. As a hapless foreigner here to learn about the ways of the World’s Greatest Democracy™, I was intrigued how the law school was literally policing free speech. I posted a Facebook status about it. It got 29 likes. But otherwise, that was the end of the matter – no editorials, statements of solidarity, or official email followed.

So I’m struggling to understand why, of all the incidents that have occurred this semester, the one during Tzipi Lipni’s visit was the one the Dean denounced. In her email, the Dean said that the remarks from the student were “offensive,” an “embarrassment to this institution” and an “assault upon the values we seek to uphold”. Further, that, “speech is and should be free does not mean that hateful remarks should go unacknowledged or unanswered”. Some may have perceived these remarks to be anti-Semitic, which rightfully should be taken seriously.

But girl. Where was this response two weeks ago?

Isn’t posting signs in Belinda Hall comparing anti-racism protestors to Donald Trump, “offensive”?  Isn’t filming women without their consent and posting it online an “embarrassment to this institution”? Isn’t planting secret voice-recorders to surveil students an “assault upon the values we seek to uphold”? Does Harvard Law only condemn insults when they are directed to prima facie war criminals and/or public figures? If so, y’all need to hear what’s being said about Sarah Jessica Parker on Twitter.

Nothing from the Dean denouncing her students being harangued, harassed, spied on; nor when her own students were shamelessly used for propaganda purposes without their consent by the current Israeli foreign minister; but when an immature comment is directed towards a public official, a statement denouncing the incident is sent to the entire community. Livni is probably sitting on a beach in Tel Aviv sipping a Bloody Mary, and here we all are, tearing ourselves apart, leaving vile comments online, and going another round of our favourite game, Writing Strongly Worded Messages in All Caps Directed to Michael Shammas.

The Dean asks us to consider, “who am I?” and “what kind of person do I wish to be?” (did we not already answer those questions on our applications to come here? Do they not have this on file?). Also, “what kind of community can we make together?” I am sure this question was meant to be rhetorical, but I’ve never been much good at following instructions; I usually forget to write my name on forms. So … what kind of community we can make together? Honestly, I don’t know. Post your answers on a Post-It note in Belinda Hall. But for my part, I at least hope for a community where the Dean doesn’t come to the defence of corporate interests and powerful politicians while hanging her own students out to dry.

Given the way in which the comments section has been abused on this website of late, I won’t be reading comments on this article. If you have an opinion on that you would like to express, you can find me on Twitter @kzornada. Random eggs need not apply.


Kristen Zornada is an LLM of the Class of 2016.

Editor’s Note: Comments that include the name of the student, that include ethnic slurs, or that include personal threats will be deleted immediately. Readers with questions may read the Record‘s policy, instituted weeks ago after another controversy, on “respectful” speech in our About page.

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