Friday, April 22, 2016
Harvard Law School is declining to disclose the identity of a student who repeatedly accused former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni of being “smelly” during a public discussion, a description many have described as anti-Semitic.
The university also deleted a portion of the video of the public event in which Husam El-Coolaq, whose identity the Washington Free Beacon has confirmed with multiple sources, made the accusation. El-Coolaq was listedas a Harvard Law School representative on the website of the student-run organization Harvard Arab Students on Wednesday, but has since been removed.
The exchange between Livni and El-Coolaq, an activist in the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) movement, was cut from the video, though portions of the conversation were leaked in transcript form.
El-Coolaq reportedly asked Livni, “How is it that you are so smelly?”
“Oh, it’s regarding your odor,” El-Coolaq said. “I’m question [sic] about the odor of Tzipi Livni, very smelly.”
The comments sparked accusations of anti-Semitism and prompted Harvard officials to condemn the incident.
However, El-Coolaq’s name has been withheld from the public and reporters attempting to write about the episode.
Attempts to reach El-Coolaq by email were unsuccessful. Inquiries sent to his university email address were subsequently returned by another Harvard student who identified himself as Jeremy Salinger.
In this correspondence, Salinger requested that the Washington Free Beacon withhold from publishing the student’s name to “minimize the damage.”
“It has come to my attention that you are writing a story about the topic,” Salinger wrote to the Free Beacon. “We are asking anyone writing an article to not use the name of the student.”
When asked to explain on whose behalf he was making this request, Salinger said that he is working on his own to protect the student from criticism.
“I was told you were writing a piece, and I’m making an effort to reach out to reporters to ask them not to use the name,” Salinger wrote. “The reason is because we felt our piece was about condemning the language that used, not the person who used it. The student is a classmate of ours, and he has publicly apologized. We feel the use of his name will distract from the message of the story and do additional unnecessary harm to this individual.”
A public apology typically involves someone identifying themselves by name.
When pressed to explain who forwarded him the information about the Free Beacon’s request for comment on the matter, Salinger said that he has “no further information” and must study for his upcoming finals.
“I do not mean to be rude, but I need to focus on my preparation for finals,” he wrote.
A spokesperson for Harvard law said that they are “not familiar” with Salinger’s efforts on behalf of El-Coolaq.
The spokesperson said the university could not name the student involved in the exchange with Livni due to “federal privacy laws.”
The Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, which sponsored the event and published the video, did not respond to multiple requests for comment about why video of the event was altered to conceal El-Coolaq’s identity.
A Harvard Law School spokesperson said the video was removed because it did not serve the school’s purpose to “share substantive ideas and intellectual content.”
“The highly offensive comment has been reported publicly in many places, verbatim,” said Michelle Deakin. “Harvard Law School publishes video of our academic events in order to share substantive ideas and intellectual content with communities and individuals beyond our campus. That purpose is not served by including an offensive remark that detracts from the educational and substantive contribution of our academic events.”
Some critics of the university’s effort to suppress details have pointed to a similar incident several years ago where a Harvard Law student came under media scrutiny for sending an email many described as racist against African-Americans.
During that incident, the student’s name was widely disseminated.
Martha Minow, the dean of Harvard’s law school, apologized to Livni and other members of the community who were offended by the exchange.
“The comment was offensive and it violated the trust and respect we expect in our community,” Minow wrote in a letter to students. “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.”
A Facebook post by El-Coolaq that were recently published online shows that he opposed a speech last year at Harvard by former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.
El-Coolaq asked in the post if “tomatoes will be allowed inside the venue.”