(January 23, 2023 / JNS)
When news broke two weeks ago that Harvard University’s Kennedy School had refused a fellowship to former Human Rights Watch head Ken Roth, I did not hesitate to applaud their principled decision. Roth has made a career from weaponizing international law and human rights to demonize the State of Israel and peddling antisemitic tropes.
From the moment the decision was made public, Roth engaged in an unprecedented temper tantrum and press campaign, making it out to be the greatest injustice in the history of mankind, even tweeting about it over 100 times in the space of barely two weeks.
Harvard is meant to be one of the world’s foremost academic institutions. Its motto, “VERITAS,” is Latin for truth. That is what makes last week’s announcement by Doug Elmendorf, Dean of the Kennedy School, that they will reverse the decision and offer Roth the prized fellowship after all, all the more depressing and infuriating.
Being awarded a fellowship at a prestigious university like Harvard ought to be a privilege, not a God-given right or the result of a PR campaign. One would think it requires an extensive history of scholarship and some semblance of academic integrity.
For over the last three decades under Roth’s leadership, HRW morphed has, sadly, from a once storied human rights watchdog into a pit bull, pathologically obsessed with Israel, singling out the Jewish state for repeated opprobrium and differential treatment while turning a blind eye to and excusing, justifying and whitewashing Palestinian terror.
In more recent times, HRW has become the leading proponent of the “apartheid” libel against Israel, while calling for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against the Jewish state. Such is Roth’s unhinged and visceral hatred of Israel that he has also inexcusably blamed the country for the rise in antisemitism and violence against Jews. It even lead to noted writer Jeffrey Goldberg penning an entire article asking “Does Human Rights Watch Understand the Nature of Prejudice?”
As far back as 2009, Roth’s obsession and bias with Israel had become so intolerable, it led to HRW founder Bob Bernstein to publicly excoriate the very organization he founded, writing in the New York Times that, under Roth’s leadership, “Human Rights Watch has lost critical perspective.” Instead of heeding Bernstein’s advice, in the years that followed, Roth’s obsession with Israel only intensified, to the point of fixation.
Writing for The Guardian, Roth claimed that the initial decision to refuse him a fellowship was due to his “criticism of Israel” and “donor reaction,” adding that HRW recognized that “we would never attract donors who wanted to exempt their favorite country from the objective application of international human rights principles. That is the price of respecting principles.”
Israel of course is not above the law or fair criticism, however, the undeniable fact is that Roth has systematically denied Israel equal treatment, taking his criticism to an obsessive and obscene level, refusing to accept the Jewish state has legitimate security concerns and denying it the same rights as afforded to other democracies.
In reversing his decision, Kennedy School Dean Elmendorf said he made an “error” in his initial refusal to appoint Roth, which was not influenced by any donor pressure, but rather had been guided based on his evaluation of Roth’s potential contribution to the school. Elmendorf ought to have stuck to his initial assessment.
Instead, there can be no other way to look at this reversal other than as a cowardly and pitiful caving in to Roth’s pressure campaign. One may be forgiven for asking if Harvard now has any red lines at all in the hallowed pursuit of “open debate”? What next? Maybe a fellowship to Vladimir Putin to teach modern warfare, or Ayatollah Ali Khamenei a fellowship in gender studies?
At a time of antisemitism surging to unprecedented levels on campuses across the United States, instead of taking a principled stand, Harvard has just normalized and rewarded Jew-hatred with a prestigious Fellowship.
Originally published by Israel Hayom.
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