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Harvard reverses course: Ken Roth to receive fellowship

The Kennedy School's dean, Douglas Elmendorf, had reportedly nixed the position due to Roth's anti-Israel bias.

Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth. Source: Screenshot.
Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth. Source: Screenshot.

The Harvard Kennedy School reversed itself on Thursday and decided to offer a fellowship to Kenneth Roth.

Roth was reportedly offered the position by Carr Center for Public Policy Executive Director Sushma Raman last May and accepted it the following month. However, the decision would be overruled by the center’s dean, Douglas Elmendorf, who concluded that Roth’s tweets showed an anti-Israel bias.

The New York Times quoted Elmendorf as saying that he had made an “error,” and that his about-face was not a result of pressure from university supporters.

“Donors do not affect our consideration of academic matters. My decision was also not made to limit debate at the Kennedy School about human rights in any country,” he said.

He attributed his initial rejection of Roth’s fellowship to an “evaluation of his potential contributions to the school.”

In response, Roth posted a lengthy statement to Twitter on Thursday.

“I am thrilled that Harvard Kennedy School Dean Douglas Elmendorf has rescinded his decision to block the fellowship for me proposed by the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy. I have long felt that the Carr Center, and the Kennedy School, would be a congenial place for me to work on the book that I am writing. I look forward to spending time there with colleagues and students,” Roth wrote.

“Two issues remain unaddressed by Dean Elmendorf’s announcement. First, he still has not said anything about the people ‘who matter to him’ whom he said were behind his original veto. Full transparency is key to ensuring that such influence is not exerted in other cases,” he continued. “Second, I remain worried about academic freedom. Given my three decades leading Human Rights Watch, I was able to shine an intense spotlight on Dean Elmendorf’s decision, but what about others? The problem of people penalized for criticizing Israel is not limited to me, and most scholars and students have no comparable capacity to mobilize public attention.”

Roth had earlier slammed Elmendorf’s decision as indicative of his “lack of backbone.”’

Prof. Gerald M. Steinberg, founder of NGO Monitor and a longtime critic of Roth, was partially credited for the original decision due to his work detailing the former HRW executive director’s anti-Israel bias.

“NGO Monitor is disappointed by the reversal by the dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government regarding Ken Roth’s application for a fellowship in human rights,” the organization wrote in a statement Thursday. “In 30 years as head of Human Rights Watch, Roth has consistently singled out Israel uniquely for demonization and delegitimization, using numerous false and distorted claims.

“These campaigns contributed significantly to antisemitism and added to the targeting of Jewish students on university campuses. He has also solicited and accepted funds from donors whose records are the antithesis of the principles and accountability that should serve as the foundation for universal human rights.

“We also note that Dean Elmendorf rejected Roth’s attempts to portray his initial rejection as the result of a nefarious Jewish conspiracy, further adding to his record of antisemitism. While Roth and his allies have succeeded in forcing this reversal, the stain of this record will not disappear,” said NGO Monitor.

Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz wrote in 2012, in reaction to comments by Roth, “When it comes to Israel and its enemies, Human Rights Watch cooks the books about facts, cheats on interviews, and puts out predetermined conclusions that are driven more by their ideology than by evidence.”

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