The Harvard University Police Department is investigating two incidents of vandalism at the Harvard Hillel building that occurred within two weeks of each other in late May and sparked forceful emails from administrators.
On May 18, an HUPD officer took a report of vandalism to a banister outside of Rosovsky Hall — Harvard’s Hillel building located at 59 Plympton Street — per the department’s public crime log. The following week, on May 28, HUPD received another report of vandalism done to a glass panel of Rosovsky Hall’s entryway doors.
University President Lawrence S. Bacow informed Harvard affiliates of the two incidents in a May 28 email, in which he condemned a recent rise in anti-Semitism across the United States. Bacow wrote that HUPD was investigating both incidents.
“People have been beaten for the simple act of wearing a yarmulke. Synagogues have been defaced; Jews have been harassed in the streets; and anti-Semitic social media postings have become common,” he wrote. “In the past two weeks, Harvard Hillel has been vandalized twice.”
The conflict in Israel and Palestine escalated in May to its worst violence since 2014. After Palestinians protested the anticipated eviction of several Palestinian families living in East Jerusalem, Israeli police clashed with Palestinians at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, leaving 300 Palestinians injured. The Islamic militant group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, responded by launching rockets into Israel, and Israeli forces carried out airstrikes on Gaza.
A cease-fire took effect May 21 following 11 days of airstrikes, which killed 248 Palestinians, including 66 children, and left thousands injured or homeless. Twelve Israeli civilians, including two children, and one Israeli soldier were also killed in the fighting.
Following Bacow’s statement, Harvard Hillel Executive Director Jonah C. Steinberg detailed both instances of vandalism in a pair of emails to Hillel affiliates — the first of which appeared to be committed in response to the recent violence in the Middle East and the other of which was possibly unintentional.
Steinberg wrote that in the first incident a Palestinian flag bearing the phrase “Fuck 12” — seemingly referring to a popularized anti-police slogan — was zip-tied to the front door of Rosovsky Hall. Cameras at the Hillel entrance recorded the two perpetrators, who wore masks and have yet to be identified, according to Steinberg.
Steinberg also wrote he believes sentiments against Israel and law enforcement are related in the minds of some Cambridge residents.
“It bears mentioning in this connection that a Cambridge City Council meeting last week heard public testimony on both a boycott resolution against Israel and a resolution on police-defunding,” Steinberg wrote. “Statements made there reflected a degree to which those issues are linked in the opinions of some Cambridge residents.”
At the May 25 Cambridge City Council meeting, several councilors proposed an order calling for the city to cut ties with companies that have business dealings in Israel, such as Hewlett-Packard, which councilors accused of “abetting apartheid in the Middle East.” The order — which was ultimately amended — touched off passionate public comment that lasted nearly seven hours.
Steinberg reaffirmed Hillel’s mission on Harvard’s campus in an email to The Crimson.
“The essence of Harvard Hillel is a welcoming, inclusive, and resilient togetherness, which I regard as indomitable in the face of hatred and violence,” Steinberg wrote.
Harvard Hillel student president Sabrina P. Goldfischer ’23 wrote in an email to The Crimson that she was “truly horrified” to learn of the incidents.
“In a time when rates of antisemitic incidents across the globe are reaching terrifying spikes, it feels all the more scary when it occurs right at Harvard, especially when the Hillel building represents a home for many in our community,” she wrote. “All students, regardless of background, have a right to feel safe on Harvard’s campus -- seeing the Hillel building become vandalized puts this promise in serious jeopardy.”
Harvard Hillel student leaders also published an open letter condemning anti-Semitism, which had garnered more than 830 signatures from University affiliates as of Monday evening.
Steinberg also detailed the second act of vandalism, which involved a window broken by a thrown object amid a party on Mount Auburn Street, during which multiple objects were thrown along the street.
HUPD spokesperson Steven G. Catalano wrote in an emailed statement May 5 that both incidents are “still being actively investigated” but declined to comment on ongoing investigations, citing HUPD policy.
—Staff writer Alex Koller can be reached at email@example.com.
—Staff writer Taylor C. Peterman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @taylorcpeterman.