The independent student newspaper of Northeastern University

The Huntington News

The independent student newspaper of Northeastern University

The Huntington News

The independent student newspaper of Northeastern University

The Huntington News

More than 130 faculty, staff sign open letter condemning alleged antisemitism at pro-Palestinian group’s demonstrations

Zoe MacDiarmid
Students gather in Cabot Quad Oct. 10 in solidarity with Israel days after Hamas’ attack. Authors of an open letter shared with The News Nov. 30 said phrases used at an Oct. 20 pro-Palestinian protest were supportive of violence against Israel’s Jewish population.

Over 130 faculty and staff members, as well as hundreds of students, have signed an open letter to the “Northeastern community” condemning antisemitism and criticizing those who have used controversial slogans at pro-Palestinian protests including “From the river to the sea” and “There is only one solution: Intifada, revolution,” for allegedly promoting violence and taking “the side of terrorists.” 

The open letter, which was shared with The News Nov. 30, is the first large-scale expression of opinions among faculty and staff regarding the university community’s response to the Israel-Hamas war. Faculty at other universities including Harvard and Columbia have signed similar letters calling out actions and phrasing used by pro-Palestinian groups. 

Four of the letter’s co-authors — Konstantin Khrapko, a professor of biology; Vladimir Torchilin, a professor in the Bouvé College of Health Sciences; Slava Epstein, a professor of biology; and Mark Khrapko, a fourth-year physics major — spoke with The News about the letter and its purpose.

“At the end of the day, [the letter is] not about stopping protests,” said Mark Khrapko, who helped his father Konstantin Khrapko and his coworkers write the letter. “It’s not about telling people they can’t be pro-Palestine. It’s not about saying people have to support Israel … The letter is focused exclusively on stopping hate.”

The letter, which 138 students and 75 alumni have also signed as of Dec. 22, applauded university leaders’ statement released in the wake of Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel, which killed 1,200 people and prompted a declaration of war. 

“We take pride in Northeastern University’s prompt and unequivocal stance against Hamas terrorists in the days following the attacks, as well as their more recent statements opposing any form of intolerant speech aimed at harming individuals or groups,” the letter reads.

But Epstein said the protests that followed the university’s statement were “deplorable and despicable.”

“I personally consider what was happening on campus back then at the end of October … a call for violence,” Epstein said, referencing the late-October protests organized by Huskies for a Free Palestine. “This is not acceptable from my point of view, and, as it turned out, from many other faculty members’ [views].”

The letter said the student march, which took place Oct. 20, was among several nationwide demonstrations that “incit[ed] violence and call[ed] for the eradication of the state of Israel.”

“We think that the university didn’t really do enough to react to that,” Konstantin Khrapko said.

Having worked as an associate professor at Harvard from 2007 to 2014, Konstantin Khrapko initially sought to sign Harvard faculty’s open letter. But signatories of the letter, addressed to President Claudine Gay and Harvard leadership, were restricted to active Harvard faculty and staff. Instead, Konstantin Khrapko said, he decided to create a letter of his own for Northeastern staff and faculty.

The statement pointed to two chants students used at the Oct. 20 protest — “There is only one solution: Intifada, revolution” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” — as examples of antisemitic expressions that are supportive of violence and advocate for the elimination of Israel’s Jewish population.

“These are not calls for peace, for a ceasefire, or a two-state solution,” the letter said of the chants. “There should be no place for antisemitism and support of violence on our campus. We condemn those who take the side of terrorists in this dark hour for the people of Israel.”

Huskies for a Free Palestine, the unofficial student organization that has organized several events in solidarity with Palestine including the march, a Nov. 9 die-in and a Dec. 1 sit-in, addressed “uninspired demonization of these phrases” in a Dec. 8 Instagram post. 

“‘Intifada’ simply means ‘uprising,’ and to globalize the Intifada means to unite the world in opposing the settler colonial state of Israel and its violence against Palestinians,” the post reads. “These statements should not be controversial, nor are they in any way targeted at Jewish people.”

Thirty-five Northeastern professors signed a Dec. 5 open letter addressed to New England legislators calling for a ceasefire in the region. The letter also condemned “the ongoing national campaigns to silence students who are speaking up for Palestinian human rights or making legitimate criticisms of Israeli state policies by conflating such speech and activism with antisemitism.” 

Authors of the Nov. 30 letter who spoke with The News said they believed students did not realize the “violent and hateful meaning of the slogans” when they used them. The letter urges participants in the changes to “re-align their statements with their true values.”

“I still believe that many young people who were involved in this activity actually do not understand what they’re chanting,” Torchilin said. “Our task is somehow to counter what they’re doing — not to chant against them, but to explain what is the truth behind what’s going on.”

News staff Zoe MacDiarmid contributed reporting.

About the Contributors
Sonel Cutler, Campus Editor
Sonel Cutler is a third-year journalism and political science combined major and campus editor of The News. She has previously served as deputy campus editor and is excited to continue bringing thoughtful and thorough coverage of campus life to Northeastern students. Sonel was most recently on co-op with the Boston Globe's Metro desk. You can follow her on Twitter at @cutler_sonel.
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