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Harvard’s teachable moment

Officials there thought it beneficial to expose students to a serial liar who has been chief negotiator for a group that rewards terrorists and murderers, and that refuses any and all compromises with the Jewish state.

Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Steve Feldman
Steve Feldman

Situations have arrayed to create a teachable moment for Harvard University—indeed, for all of academia. The question is: Will the Ivy League pantheon and others embrace it, or are Harvard and the others so locked into promoting a false narrative that they will reject this opportunity to do the right thing?

As of this writing, Saeb Erekat, Secretary-General of the executive committee for the Palestine Liberation Organization—the group synonymous with terrorism—lies in critical condition in Hadassah Hospital in the Israeli capital of Jerusalem, where he is being treated for COVID-19.

For years, Erekat, the PLO’s chief negotiator, has been telling everyone who will listen to or read his propaganda that Israel practices “apartheid”: an official discriminatory separation of peoples based on race or ethnicity or religion that permeates a society, and that had been the law of the land in South Africa. The claim that Israel practices “apartheid” is patently false of course, yet it is both widely believed and taught. Were the claim by Erekat (and repeated by countless others) true, he would not be welcome at Hadassah Hospital, where he is a VIP (very important patient), nor at any other Israeli medical center and instead might be at a less capable hospital in Ramallah or Gaza City, or perhaps in Amman, Riyadh, Damascus or Doha.

But Erekat did not seek treatment there or anywhere else where the PLO/Fatah/Palestinian Authority anti-Israel and anti-Jewish rhetoric is echoed and its deadly activities funded.

Erekat has spent his entire career—his entire adult life—trying to delegitimize and weaken the Jewish state. Some would argue that he has been trying to destroy the Jewish state. He does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the entire city of Jerusalem. The Palestinian Arabs insist it is their capital with the tacit approval of most of the world.

What does any of this have to do with Harvard?

Earlier this year, Harvard named Erekat a Fisher Family Fellow at its Kennedy School’s Belfer Center. Officials there thought it beneficial and wise to expose students to a serial liar who has been chief negotiator for a group that rewards terrorists and murderers, and that refuses any and all compromises with the Jewish state. Harvard officials believe that Erekat should be honored with this prestigious position despite his ignoble record.

Some of Erekat’s most heinous false claims:

In 2002 during Israel’s “Operation Defensive Shield,” Erekat told CNN that Israel had killed “more than 500 people” in Jenin and called it a “real massacre.” But according to the Jerusalem Council for Public Affairs, “the Palestinian death toll in Jenin was 52: 34 of whom (65 percent) were known military operatives.”

In an interview with Al Jazeera in 2014 stated his support for “resistance”—a euphemism for violence—and vowed “I will never recognize[sic] Israel as a Jewish state,” according to a transcript. “I cannot accept Israel as a Jewish state. Number two: I cannot accept any document without East Jerusalem being the capital of Palestine. It’s meaningless for Palestine to emerge as a state without East Jerusalem being the capital of Palestine. And what I mean by East Jerusalem is the holy Aqsa mosque and the Holy Sepulchre and the Old City and the six square kilometres [sic] that existed in 1967.”

He also claimed that “Yasser Arafat was sieged and killed by Israel.”

And, of course, many times he has made the “apartheid” claim.

Surely, if “apartheid” really was taking place in Israel, Erekat would not be a patient in and getting excellent care from Israel’s most famous hospital, especially given Erekat’s history. But Erekat’s situation is not unusual. In fact, it is typical. Israelis, Arabs, Jews, Muslims, Christians and others are not only treated side by side in Israeli hospitals, but also physicians and nurses and others work side by side at those hospitals. But that’s not all: They work together in the Knesset, in the military, in commerce, in the diplomatic corps, academia and elsewhere.

Palestinian Authority and Hamas leadership are fully aware of this and do not believe their own propaganda, and yet the United Nations and its agencies do; governments throughout the world do; and figures in the academy, pop culture and journalism do. And on scores of campuses throughout America and elsewhere, miseducated students not only believe the lies, but also become proponents of efforts to boycott, sanction and divest from the Jewish state at their respective schools because of what they have been taught.

The reality is that Israel is not the place that its enemies and detractors make it out to be. Actually, it’s quite the opposite.

Whether it be setting up a field hospital on the periphery of Syria to treat victims of that country’s civil war (Syria is still in a declared state of war against Israel) to shipping goods into the Gaza Strip intended to help Gazans, but instead are used to attack Israelis or facilitate terrorism, or whether it be bringing advanced agriculture techniques and modern medical treatments to remote parts of Africa to sending a team to Haiti to search for and rescue earthquake victims and supplies to Indonesia for tsunami victims, Israel engages in humanitarian activities to help people in its neighborhood and throughout the world, irrespective of their religion, race, nationality or ethnicity.

No doubt none of this is conveyed to students at Harvard or any other university outside of Israel. But students are taught false claims about “occupation,” “oppression,” “refugees,” “violence” and the most recent: that Israelis are training police officers from the United States to murder African-Americans on America’s streets.

Instead of teaching lies about Israel—and by extension, the Jewish people—to another class of students via Erekat or anyone else, it is time for Harvard (and other schools) to finally offer students the facts stripped of the propaganda supplied by Arabs and Arabists, Islamists and run-of-the-mill Jew-haters. After 72 years of mostly lies, it’s time that the real story about Israel is taught, told, understood and appreciated.

Those of us who know the truth—whether alumni, donors or just good Americans who care about our important ally Israel or their Jewish neighbors—must insist on it.

Steve Feldman is the executive director of the Zionist Organization of America’s Greater Philadelphia Chapter.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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