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“Smelly Jews” and Harvard

The student’s offensive remark was not only anti-Semitic, it violated the sanctity of all human beings.

by Rabbi Benjamin Blech


It isn’t just Jews who should have been horrified by what happened at Harvard. The story was far more than an illustration of vile anti-Semitism at one of the most prestigious educational institutions in the world. It demonstrated the profound failure of our contemporary educational system to include as one of its most important concerns the goal of civilized behavior.

The Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, co-sponsored by the Jewish Law Students Association and Harvard Hillel, hosted a conversation between former Israeli Minister Tzipi Livni and American Diplomat Dennis Ross. After the presentation of alternate views on the political situation between Israel and the Palestinians, a question-and-answer period followed. This was an opportunity for Harvard’s “best and the brightest” to address their concerns and to share their insights. One of the students indicated he had a question for the Israeli representative.

“My question is for Tzipi Livni – how is it that you are so smelly?”

When his question induced puzzlement, he followed up: “It’s regarding your odor – about the odor of Tzipi Livni, very smelly.”

“How was it that you are so smelly?” was regarded as offensive by many of those present because it was viewed as a specifically anti-Semitic barb. Jeremy Salinger, Jacqueline Wolpoe, and Jonathan Gartner, the current co-presidents and immediate past president of the Jewish Law Students Association, made clear the direct links between the “smelly Jew” accusation and stereotype


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