Anti-Semitism is still very real today, and it just showed itself at Harvard Law School.
The Harvard Law Record reports that at a Q&A section of an event last Thursday, an HLS student asked Israeli MK Tzipi Livni: “How is it that you are so smelly? . . . A question about the odor of Ms. Tzipi Livni, she’s very smelly, and I was just wondering.”
This anti-Semitic rhetoric was expressed at an event hosted by the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School and co-sponsored by the Jewish Law Students Association and Harvard Hillel. The event was titled “The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict & the U.S.” The event was a conversation between former Israeli Foreign Minister and current Knesset Member Tzipi Livni and American Diplomat Dennis Ross. It was a discussion, moderated by HLS Professor Robert Mnookin, on the complex and important topic of the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.
Given the opportunity to ask a question and to engage in productive dialogue with an Israeli political leader, this HLS student, who is the president of a student organization on campus, revived the antiquated and offensive notion of the “smelly Jew” – a term reeking of anti-Semitism – in order to insult her.
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.
Later, the individual who made the comment issued an apology, stating as follows:
“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”. 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. 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. To those people I say, please reach out. Give me an opportunity to make it right. I will assure you, as I have already assured many, that had I known it was even possible that some listeners might interpret my comments as anti-Semitic, there is absolutely no chance that I would have uttered them. I trust that those that know me and have engaged with me on a personal level will not find this at all difficult to believe. 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.”