A Harvard student has apologized for calling MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) a “smelly Jew” during a panel discussion last week.
The incident occurred last Thursday when the Harvard Law School hosted a panel discussion with guest speakers Dennis Ross and Livni.
During a question and answer session a president of a student organization mocked the Israeli leader, asking her, “How is it that you are so smelly?”
When his question drew stunned silence, he clarified his "question" and said, “A question about the odor of Ms. Tzipi Livni, she’s very smelly, and I was just wondering.”
The question was condemned by Harvard’s Jewish Law Students Association, which pointed out that the student invoked a classic anti-Semitic stereotype.
“Discussions about Israel cannot devolve into ad hominem attacks against Jews,” the association said, as quoted by Tablet Magazine. “A quick Internet search will show that the stereotype of ‘the Jew’ as ‘smelly’ or ‘dirty’ has been around since at least the 1800s. The Nazis promoted the idea that Jews ‘smell’ to propagandize Jews as an inferior people. The idea that Jews can be identified by a malodor is patently offensive and stereotypes Jews as an ‘other’ which incites further acts of discrimination. The fact that such a hate-filled and outdated stereotype reemerged at Harvard Law School is nothing short of revolting…”
Harvard Law dean Martha Minow condemned the incident as well, saying “the comment was offensive and it violated the trust and respect we expect in our community.”
“Many perceive it as anti-Semitic, and no one would see it as appropriate. It was an embarrassment to this institution and an assault upon the values we seek to uphold. The fact that speech is and should be free does not mean that hateful remarks should go unacknowledged or unanswered in a community dedicated to thoughtful discussion of complex issues and questions,” Minow said, according to Tablet Magazine.
On Wednesday, the student in question issued an apology that was published in The Harvard Law Record. The student is a leader of Harvard Law’s Justice for Palestine chapter whose identity is being withheld.
“I am writing to apologize, as sincerely as I can via this limited form of communication, to anyone who may have felt offended by the comments I made last week. To be very clear, as there seems to be some confusion, I would never, ever, ever call anyone, under any circumstances, a ‘smelly Jew’,” the student wrote.
“Such a comment is utterly repugnant, and I am absolutely horrified that some readers have been led to believe that I would ever say such a thing. With regards to what I actually did say, I can see now, after speaking with the authors of this article and many other members of the Jewish community at HLS, how my words could have been interpreted as a reference to an anti-Semitic stereotype, one that I was entirely unaware of prior to the publication of this article,” he continued.
“I want to be very clear that it was never my intention to invoke a hateful stereotype, but I recognize now that, regardless of my intention, words have power, and it troubles me deeply to know that I have caused some members of the Jewish community such pain with my words.”
“Many members of the Jewish community—some of whom hold strong differences of opinion with me—have reached out to me on their own to let me know that they did not interpret my words as anti-Semitic, because they know me well enough to know that that is not at all consistent with who I am as a person. I want to thank them and any others who have given me the benefit of the doubt, and I am writing this note in the hopes that more of you will do the same. I say this, however, fully cognizant of the fact that no amount of writing can serve as a substitute for genuine human interaction. So please, if there remains any doubt at all, do take me up on my offer above and reach out so that I can make this right to you on a more personal level.”