Harvard Law Student Asks Former Israeli Minister Why She’s ‘So Smelly’

The comments were decried as anti-Semitic.

Photo by Ralph Alswang/Brookings Institution on Flickr/Creative Commons

Photo by Ralph Alswang/Brookings Institution on Flickr/Creative Commons

Update: Monday, 2:35 p.m.

The Harvard Law student has issued an apology.

“I am writing to apologize, as sincerely as I can via this limited form of communication, to anyone who may have felt offended by the comments I made last week,” he wrote. “To be very clear, as there seems to be some confusion, I would never, ever, ever call anyone, under any circumstances, a ‘smelly Jew.’ Such a comment is utterly repugnant, and I am absolutely horrified that some readers have been led to believe that I would ever say such a thing.”

You can read his full apology here.


An unidentified Harvard Law student has drawn sharp criticism for his remarks at a recent forum, in which he asked an Israeli official why she’s “so smelly.”

Former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni participated in a panel on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict organized by Harvard Law School Thursday. During the question and answer portion, a student asked Livni, who is still a member of the Knesset, Israel’s legislative body, about her “odor.”

“My question is for Tzipi Livni—how is it that you are so smelly?” the student said, according to an email from Harvard Law Dean Martha Minow to students and faculty. “It’s regarding your odor—about the odor of Tzipi Livni, very smelly.”

Minow called the incident an “ad hominem attack in the form of a ‘question’ to our Israeli guest,” according to the Globe.

“Many perceive it as anti-Semitic, and no one would see it as appropriate,” Minow said. “It was an embarrassment to this institution and an assault upon the values we seek to uphold.”

Minow did not indicate whether the student would be disciplined, but said that the incident was an opportunity for self-reflection.

“This is a moment for each of us to pause, and perhaps ask, ‘Who am I?’—and, more importantly, ‘What kind of person do I wish to be? And what kind of community can we make together?'” she wrote.

The Harvard Jewish Law Students Association, which organized the event, called the student’s question “blatantly anti-Semitic rhetoric” and demanded an apology.

“This kind of (comment) has been a feature of anti-Semitic thinking for more than two centuries,” Robert Leikind, Boston regional director of the American Jewish Committee, said in a statement, “during which the suggestion that Jews smelled was used to suggest that they are an inferior people, who are worthy of contempt.”