An open letter to the community from Andrè Zivaült, assistant professor of Marionette Ventriloquist Puppetry at Harvard University’s Mortimer Snerd School of Puppeteering and Mime Arts.
Recently on X, formerly known as Twitter, I wrote the following regarding the Oct. 7 Hamas incursion into Israel: “No context is needed: Jews are warmongers fit for annihilation. Israel must be eradicated.” It has since come to my attention that people actually read what I wrote and have taken it wildly out of context, causing quite a kerfuffle. Upon reflection, I wish to apologize to the Harvard community — not because Harvard’s president broke down my door, demanding I delete the tweet, which I have since done, but because my words somehow caused harm and a breathtaking loss of alumni donations. Many have even called me anti-Semitic — a claim I reject. Sophisticates like me who disagree with the very idea of Israel shroud our nuanced thinking by speaking intellectual gobbledygook. Whereas a Jew-hating white hillbilly might say, “I hates them Jews,” someone like me would opine, “The patriarchal construct of Middle Eastern Jewry begets obligatory violence aimed at decolonizing and freeing oppressed peoples of color from global capitalism, henceby deconstructing an apartheid hegemonic oligopoly.” While none of that makes any sense, when someone like me expresses it around a gaggle of naïve college students and left-leaning academics, the reaction is universal chin-stroking and nods of “Hmm, yes.”
Let me explain. I woke on Oct. 7 and breakfasted on a slice of wheat toast slathered with organically grown avocado pumice butter and then turned on the television. What I saw was absolute horror. Hamas freedom fighters were running for their lives from typically angry Israelis. I knew that these brave Palestinian militants — who crave nothing but peace — would soon face the wrath of a vastly superior Israeli military that was bound to overreact to a few civilian casualties.
Soon after, the Harvard College Palestine Solidarity Committee issued a statement, co-signed by 33 other student groups, blaming Israel for the bloodshed. This prompted me to chime in. Bluntly put, I got carried away. I am but one ventriloquism professor, a lone voice — or two, depending on the situation. But from my lofty and fully tenured Cambridge perch, I felt I could constructively add to the national — no, global — conversation that would follow. While my call for Israel’s destruction likely reflects the values of most Harvard professors, the sentiment certainly isn’t shared by everyone, especially the roughly 15 percent of Harvard students who are Jewish — some of whom might take my very courses! How can I in good conscience expect a Jewish student to feel safe in my classroom while I manipulate a wobbly devil puppet that bears a Star of David on its belly?
I should not have tweeted what I wrote but rather posted it in a private Harvard faculty chatroom where it belongs. And for that I am sorry.
Freedom of speech is crucial for academics such as myself to thrive in a learning environment, and even more crucial is for those academics never to be held responsible for anything they say. My Twitter/X account has been bombarded with calls for my immediate ouster from Harvard — to which I say, don’t be hasty. Students spend close to $60,000 a year for me to teach them the art of marionette combined with voice throwing. My talents are crucial for producing the next generation of puppeteers. It might shock you to learn that I likely trained the professional who put on that Punch and Judy drag puppet show at your local library, subsequently bringing joy and much-needed confusion to your children. Because I am a Harvard professor, I am to be taken seriously. My words are never meant to cause harm but instead to get the reader to think seriously about complex topics, which Palestine’s struggle against its oppressor clearly is. I have long followed this issue, beginning from my heady days as a Harvard undergraduate, whose first political science course, “Justified Terrorism: Decolonization and Peaceful Post-Genocidal Orthodoxy,” helped mold me into the instructor I am today.
To the readers who were unsophisticated enough to construe my tweet pining for Israel’s ruination as somehow violent, I shall atone for this by performing a one-man sock puppet show chronicling the Arab/Israeli conflict. This will happen once I’m done stitching the googly button-eyes on the Yasser Arafat sock, and only after I meet with my historical consultants, U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Hamas) and, for balance, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. Then, and only then, can a fair depiction of this decades-old struggle be presented. (READ MORE: To Understand Rashida Tlaib, Look at Her District)
Harvard University and numerous institutions of higher learning (e.g., Cornell, UPenn) encourage diversity of people and not thought — as they should — and this is indeed reflected by the hordes of students on campuses nationwide braying pro-Palestinian slogans calling for an end to an apartheid that none of them can quite explain. This monolithic bloc of intellectual vapidity heartens me. Our message resonates. Still, when speaking, we must choose our words wisely, as I always have. Remember, peaceful equanimity can only prevail once indigenous foreigners manifest macro-aggressions into formulative, perspicacious constructs disconnected from societal augmentation that bespeaks solidarity. Hmm, yes.
Matt Manochio is a writer living in New Jersey. His website is www.mattmanochio.com.