TEL AVIV – The president of the Justice for Palestine chapter at Harvard Law School has apologized for asking Israeli Knesset member (Zionist Union) and former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, “How is it that you are so smelly?”
The student asked the question during an April 14 panel event co-sponsored by the Jewish Law Students Association and Harvard Hillel on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with Livni and American diplomat Dennis Ross.
When he didn’t receive an immediate response, the student continued,”Oh, it’s a question about the odor of Ms. Tzipi Livni, very smelly, and I was just wondering.”
The Jewish Law Students Association blasted the student’s question as “blatantly anti-Semitic rhetoric” that invoked the “antiquated and offensive notion of the ‘smelly Jew.’”
“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 group’s leaders wrote in the Harvard Law Record. “The Nazis promoted the idea that Jews ‘smell’ to propagandize Jews as an inferior people.”
The student issued a lengthy apology on Wednesday.
“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. 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.
Harvard Law dean Martha Minow issued an email to the entire school community.
The comment was offensive and it violated the trust and respect we expect in our community,” she wrote. “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.