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Cornel West cites 'anti-Palestinian prejudice' in resignation letter to Harvard

Cornel West speaks at the 2019 Hutchins Center Honors W.E.B. Du Bois Medal Ceremony at Harvard University on October 22, 2019 in Cambridge, Massachusetts [Paul Marotta/Getty Images]
Cornel West speaks at the 2019 Hutchins Center Honors W.E.B. Du Bois Medal Ceremony at Harvard University on October 22, 2019 in Cambridge, Massachusetts [Paul Marotta/Getty Images]

In his blistering resignation letter to Harvard University, Dr Cornel West, one of America's leading public intellectuals, cited the administration's "anti-Palestinian prejudice" as one of the main reasons for departing after four years of teaching. West is expected to return to Union Theological Seminary, where he first taught 44 years ago.

West shared a copy of his letter on Twitter yesterday explaining the reasons for his resignation. The 67-year-old philosopher, political activist, and social critic has been involved in a drawn-out public dispute with Harvard Divinity School over his tenure since early this year.

Considered an intellectual giant by many, West's fallout triggered speculation over why such a prominent figure would be denied tenure. It was thought that his vocal support for the Palestinians and his harsh criticism of Israel played a major role in blocking his path to tenure.

Over the past few years, pro-Israel groups have run a highly successful campaign across American states and campuses to suppress criticism of Israel using the highly dubious International Holocaust Alliance definition of anti-Semitism which conflates criticism of the occupation state with racism towards Jews.

READ: Harvard urged to divest almost $200m from companies linked to Israel settlements

West himself has hinted that he is a victim of such a campaign thought by many to be an assault on the first amendment of the American constitution which guarantees the right to freedom of speech. "Is Harvard a place for a free Black man like myself whose Christian faith & witness put equal value on Palestinian & Jewish babies- like all babies- & reject all occupations as immoral?" West asked on Twitter when the dispute first came to light.

West also claimed that Harvard's decision was political and had nothing to do with his ability as a professor. "After being tenured at Yale, Harvard, Princeton & Union Theological Seminary, the recent Harvard denial of a tenure process strikes me as a political decision I reject," added West. "Nothing stands in the way of my profound love for & solidarity with oppressed peoples wherever they are!!"

In an interview with the Boycott Times, he said that there are certain "taboo issues" at Harvard. "One of them is the Palestinian cause, wrestling with a serious moral-spiritual political critique of the Israeli occupation," West said.

Harvard contests these allegations.

Sharing a copy of his letter to over a million followers on Twitter, West said: "I try to tell the unvarnished truth about the decadence in our market-driven universities! Let us bear witness against this spiritual rot!."

West mentioned "cowardly deference to the anti-Palestinian prejudice of the Harvard administration" along with the university's indifference to his mother's death amongst the reasons for his resignation. He accused Harvard of suffering from "intellectual and spiritual bankruptcy."

READ: Einstein would be banned from Israel, says prominent US activist

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