Harvard University has borne the brunt of the backlash for the antisemitism of its student protesters in the last few months: their president had to step down over her mismanagement of the issue and a plagiarism scandal. But Harvard is far from the only elite school in the nation in botching their approach to pro-Palestinian activists. It’s not even alone in its city. Boston University sits just over a mile away, across the Charles River — and its administration has avoided the same level of backlash for its failure to tackle open hatred of Jews and Israelis on campus.
BU students celebrated Hamas’s terror attack against Israelis on October 7, honored Hamas terrorists as “martyrs” and “freedom fighters” and routinely tore down posters of Israeli hostages, in a stunning example of rising antisemitism on college campuses.
Jewish students at Boston University say the problem with antisemitism at their school started long before October 7, but it was in the aftermath of that terror attack, where Hamas terrorists invaded Israel and killed 1,200 people, including more than 800 civilians, that the behavior escalated.
BU Students for Justice in Palestine, a pro-Palestine student group with chapters at colleges across the country, cheered on the killings. They shared an Instagram post from Samidoun Network, an organization that works with Palestinian prisoners, describing the terror attacks as “resistance.”
“As the morning dawns on 7 October 2023, the resistance is rising throughout occupied Palestine, smashing the siege on Gaza with a comprehensive offensive confronting the occupier by land and air, taking control of Palestinian land, seizing occupation settlers and soldiers and launching thousands of missiles as Palestinian resistance forces fight to advance return and the liberation of Palestine,” Samidoun Network’s post said. The group also justified Hamas taking hostages during the attack, claiming it was taking “settlers” and “soldiers” in order to force Israel to release some Palestinian prisoners. In addition to Israeli citizens and IDF soldiers, Hamas also kidnapped students studying abroad in Israel and other foreign nationals.
The Samidoun Network was banned in Germany on October 12 for “celebrating” Hamas’s attacks.
BU Students for Justice in Palestine quickly posted their own flyer on October 7 advertising an “emergency” rally and march.
“Long live Palestinian resistance,” the flyer said. “Victory is ours.”
Also on October 7, BU SJP reposted a primer on “armed resistance” that was originally posted by the account Let’s Talk Palestine in June. “Palestinians are forced to engage in an armed struggle in order to defend themselves and their land,” the post reads. “When a group is occupied by a violent power, which seeks to dominate, exploit, or harm them, resistance is not just a right, but a communal duty.”
Other Instagram stories shared by BU SJP on that day claimed, “Palestinians have the right to resist” and described what was happening as “Palestinian resistance fighters … mobilizing” and said these “fighters” had “infiltrated ‘Israeli’ settlements near the Gaza region & activated rockets targeting the occupied 1948 lands (aka ‘state of Israel’).”
Over the next few weeks, students at Boston University moved beyond rejecting Israel’s existence and glorifying Hamas’s attacks on Israelis to other overt acts of antisemitism on campus. The Boston University Greek Rock, which had been tagged with colors of a Jewish fraternity on campus, was painted over with a “Jewish nose” and demonic imagery. Flyers put up around campus of the hostages being held by Hamas were routinely torn down by pro-Palestine students. Some students hid their faces under hoods when they were caught on camera removing the flyers; others were defiant.
“Dude, you literally know I’m Jewish,” one student said with a shrug as she was confronted for tearing down the posters. “You have no right to tell people that their beliefs are wrong… why are you filming this? Why are you filming? What’s your point?”
“You are reading into propaganda,” the female student continued. “You’re supporting occupation. An illegal occupation that’s been happening for seventy-five years.”
The student filming the interaction replied, “Did you read that poster? It’s about Hamas and the atrocities and all of the war crimes they’re committing. It’s not about anything else.”
Another student, when confronted, repeated the line that the hostage posters amounted to “propaganda”.
The anti-Israel and antisemitic behavior quickly spread beyond students and onto official university channels. The Boston University Sociology Department made a post on social media in late October helping Students for Justice in Palestine — the same group that had justified the October 7 terror attacks as “resistance” and a fight for “freedom” — advertise for a campus rally and walk out.
BU Today, a daily news and commentary website run by the Marketing & Communications office, published an article on October 23 arguing that words were being “weaponized” in the Israel-Hamas war. While Elizabeth Coppock, a linguistics professor who was interviewed for the article, accepted that dehumanizing language was being used by both sides, she took issue with the word “terrorists” being used to describe Hamas.
“It’s clear that the use of the word carries an implication which is very much on one side of the conflict, assigning a role to the referent within a larger practice. The assignment of that role is undoubtedly subjective,” Coppock argued. The article was shared on the official Boston University X account, alongside another article that seemingly took Coppock’s advice and referred to Hamas as “militants.”
In early November, BU SJP held a sit-in on campus “to honor the 10,000+ Gaza genocide victims” alongside eleven other campus groups, including the BU Queer Activist Collective, the BU Young Democratic Socialists, the BU Revolutionary Marxist Students, BU SHADES (queer/trans students of color) and more. At the event, students read off a list of “martyrs” of Israel’s war against Hamas, but used names provided by the Hamas health ministry that included dozens of confirmed terrorists. For example, one of the individuals honored by the BU students was Ahmed Siam, a senior Hamas commander that was accused of preventing the evacuation of Gaza residents ahead of Israeli military operations and holding a thousand Gaza’s hostage inside of the pediatric ward of a hospital. Israel claims it has killed or captured up to 9,000 Hamas fighters since the start of the war, making up about half of the total death Gazan toll as counted by Hamas.
The incidents at Boston University came at a time when numerous colleges and universities have come under fire for failing to adequately address rising antisemitism on their campuses. In early December, three university presidents from Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, appeared before Congress to testify as Jewish students claimed they felt unsafe at school. Liz Magill, then the president of Penn, told Representative Elise Stefanik that it was a “context-dependent decision” as to whether or not calling for the genocide of Jews violated campus policies against bullying or harassment. She resigned four days later, along with the chairman of the board. Claudine Gay, the president of Harvard, said that when “speech crosses into conduct, that violates our policies.” After backlash over her remarks and a plagiarism scandal, Gay stepped down from her post but remains a member of Harvard faculty. Sally Kornbluth is still the president of MIT, though she similarly equivocated when asked about calls for the genocide of Jews, stating that comments would have to be directed at an individual in order to violate the campus code.
Boston University did not return a request for comment.