The Harvard Kennedy School announced Thursday it would change course and offer fellowships to leading human rights defenders it previously refused.
The controversy began earlier this month when The Nation rejected an offer by the school’s dean, Douglas Elmendorf, to offer Kenneth Roth a year-long fellowship with the school’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy last summer. It broke out when I published a lengthy article revealing. The recently retired executive director of Human Rights Watch. At the time, Elmendorf told his colleagues that he was concerned about Human Rights Watch’s perceived bias against Israel.
The revelation sparked sharp condemnation from prominent free expression groups. The letter, signed by more than 1,000 Harvard students, faculty and alumni, criticizes what it calls “the shameful decision to blacklist Kenneth Roth.” and personal complaints from faculty.
In an email to the Kennedy School community on Thursday, Elmendorf said his decision was a “mistake” and the school will extend the invitation to Ross.
Elmendorf, an economist and director of the Congressional Budget Office from 2009 to 2015, also disputed accusations that donors influenced his initial decision.
“Donors do not influence our consideration of academic issues,” he said in a statement. “My decision was not taken to restrict discussion at the Kennedy School on human rights in any country.”
He did not specify the reason for his refusal of Mr. Ross’s fellowship, except that it was “based on my evaluation of his potential contributions to the school.”
Of Ross, who accepted an offer from the University of Pennsylvania after converting from Harvard and is now a Fellow of Perry World House, Elmendorf said: wide-ranging human rights issues. “
Reached by phone after the reversal was announced, Ross said he was happy with the decision and said he was “overwhelmed”. He expressed concern from faculty and will use the fellowship to write a book about his decades of human rights advocacy. But he also called for greater transparency.
“Dean Elmendorf said he made this decision because of the people who were ‘important’ to him at college.”He still refuses to say who the people who are important to him are. .”
American college campus details
He called on Harvard University to make a stronger commitment to academic freedom, including those not in a position to mobilize public opinion.
“I am not alone in punishing those who criticize Israel,” he continued. “What did Kennedy, the School, and Harvard more broadly, do to show that this episode conveys a renewed commitment to academic freedom rather than his special treatment of one prominent individual? are you trying to?”
The case was the latest flare-up in the ongoing debate about when criticism of Israel develops into anti-Semitism, and when anti-Semitic accusations are used to contain criticism.
in an interview (and on Twitter), a Jew whose father fled Nazi Germany when he was a child, Elmendorf’s initial decision was to outlaw Human Rights Watch, which has monitored abuse in more than 100 countries, as an impartial observer in Israel. He described it as a case of “donor-led censorship” but said there was no evidence.
“This appears to be a donor effect that undermines intellectual independence,” he said in an interview with The New York Times last week.
(A Harvard University spokesman said the university and its president, Lawrence Bacau, did not comment.)
The donor’s influence can be ambiguous, as details of conversations held behind closed doors rarely surface. But some donors, concerned about what they see as anti-Semitic or anti-Israel trends in academia, have sought to withdraw their donations or sway hiring decisions.
In 2020, the University of Toronto stopped hiring Valentina Azarova as director of its law school’s human rights program. (After a public outcry, the university offered Azarova a job, protecting academic freedom, but she declined.)
Last year, the University of Washington returned $5 million in donations. After a donor to an Israeli studies program voiced displeasure with a professor who joined other Israeli and Jewish researchers in signing an open letter criticizing the Israeli government’s actions against Palestinians and Arabs. Country and territory of Palestine. According to the university, donors had requested that the endowment agreement be amended to prohibit scholars supported by the donation from making statements “that would be considered hostile to Israel.”
A federation of 12 centers and dozens of other initiatives, The Kennedy School is one of the nation’s leading public policy schools. Controversy is also not uncommon. The cause often stems not from regular faculty members, but from his more than 750 visiting fellows, including prominent figures in politics, government and the media.
In 2017, Elmendorf canceled a fellowship offered to former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning. Manning leaked an archive of military and diplomatic documents to WikiLeaks in 2010, following criticism from then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo and other intelligence agencies. In 2019, former Michigan governor Rick Snyder withdrew from the fellowship after his appointment sparked backlash on social media, citing his role in the Flint water crisis from students.
As for partisan voices on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the school has in recent years recruited former Israeli commander-in-chief Amos Yadrin and Saeb Erekat, then chief Palestinian negotiator and secretary general of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. has accepted various fellows, including .
Roth had been recruited for a non-teaching fellowship by Mathias Risse, director of the Carr Center. In an e-mail to Car Center students, faculty, fellows, alumni and others following the Nation article, Lisse called him “one of the most prominent human rights leaders of our time.” He said the fellowship rejection was “one of the lowest moments in the world.” my professional life. “
In interviews and emails with The Times, Lisse and another faculty member, Kathryn Sickink, described Human Rights Watch’s “bias” against Israel as Elmendorf explained Ross’ rejection. He told them he became aware of the problem after talking to unnamed people inside the university.
According to them, no donor was mentioned. However, a 2021 report by Human Rights Watch said it concluded that Israel’s policy toward Palestinians in the occupied territories met the legal definition of “the crime of apartheid.”
Human Rights Watch’s fairness to Israel has long been a matter of debate both inside and outside the organization. In a 2009 opinion essay for The Times, one of the group’s founders, Robert Bernstein, accused Israel of criticizing “aiding those who wish to turn it into a pariah state.”
In 2019, Israel called on Omar Shakir, the group’s director of Israel and Palestine and lead researcher and author of the 2021 report, to ban foreigners who support a boycott of Israel or its territories. exiled under the law. At the time, Shaquille denied that he or Human Rights Watch had called for a mass consumer boycott of Israel or its settlements.
In its 2021 report, “A Threshold Crossed,” Human Rights Watch became the first major international human rights organization to apply the term “apartheid” to Israel’s actions. Six months later, Amnesty International followed suit in its own report. (In 2022, the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School published a similar, less-noticed report.)
Sarah Leah Whitson, former Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said the “apartheid” designation came after “painful” internal debate.
“We have had to work for years to build trust among the senior leadership of the organization that this is an important place for us,” said the Arab world’s current democracy, Or said Whitson, executive director of DAWN. There was a fear that if we crossed the line, they would try to decapitate us as a competent advocacy group.
The Human Rights Watch report was attacked by Israel, which its ambassador to the United States described as bordering on anti-Semitism. The American Jewish Commission called it “your business” and accused Ross of harboring a personal “hostility to Israel.” Some progressive Jewish groups, who expressed concern at the “bitter attacks” on the report, also pointed to their own disagreements over the term “apartheid.”
Some of the reports do not characterize Israel as an “apartheid state.” The term is used not to refer to the character of the Israeli government, but to refer to a specific discriminatory policy in the occupied territories, set out in internationally ratified, internationally adopted legal prohibitions ” It met the definition of a “crime of apartheid”. International Criminal Court.
Ross said the gist of the report, which he “personally spent a lot of time editing,” was not to equate Israel with South Africa’s racist former regime, but to apply a legal definition. And it reflects the reality that the peace process is “dead,” he said.
“There is no evidence that what is happening today will go away,” he said. “That’s why we all realized we had to change the paradigm.”
For some on campus, the issue is more about the balance of discourse on campus than it is about Ross or Human Rights Watch.
Natalie Khan, a Harvard senior and co-president of Harvard Students for Israel, said that if Car Center deems it appropriate to invite him, “from a free speech perspective, should be eligible for a fellowship.” “That said, there are so many people at Harvard who support the anti-Israel view that I don’t really think we need another view.”
Ahmed Moore, a 2013 Kennedy School alumnus who helped draft an open letter from a Palestinian alumni protesting Elmendorf’s initial decision, said the school accepted Israeli general Yadrin but “people like me “There was also.”
Representing many perspectives is part of the purpose of the “best public policy programme,” so “it’s fine and well suited for that kind of institution.”
In the initial decision, he added, “That’s where the current dean messed things up.”