Harvard reinstates fellowship ‘blocked over Israel criticism’

Kennedy School dean Elmendorf, under sustained protest, apologises and invites celebrated Human Rights Watch leader

一月 19, 2023
'Boycott Israel' graffiti on Israeli separation wall illustrating review of ‘Conflict Graffiti: From Revolution to Gentrification’ by John Lennon
Source: iStock

Harvard University, under heavy protest, has reversed its rejection of a fellowship for Kenneth Roth, a former executive director of Human Rights Watch, allegedly over his criticism of Israel.

The dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School, Douglas Elmendorf, announced the reversal of his initial decision to deny Mr Roth the appointment, along with an apology, in a note to the school community.

“I now believe that I made an error in my decision not to appoint him as a fellow at our Carr Center for Human Rights,” Professor Elmendorf writes. “I am sorry that the decision inadvertently cast doubt on the mission of the school and our commitment to open debate in ways I had not intended and do not believe to be true.”

The matter has become a focal point for debates in US higher education over donor influence in general and over that exercised by supporters of Israel in particular.

The Carr Center’s faculty director, Mathias Risse, has said that the centre invited Mr Roth to serve as a fellow in April, after Mr Roth announced his plans to retire by August from two decades leading Human Rights Watch.

But Professor Elmendorf rejected the appointment, a spokesman explained, “as he sometimes decides not to make other proposed academic appointments, based on an evaluation of the candidate’s potential contributions to the Kennedy School”.

That prompted protests from hundreds of faculty and students at the Kennedy School, with some calling for Professor Elmendorf to resign as dean. The denial appeared to reflect Mr Roth’s criticism of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, making it an “act of censorship and a threat to free expression and academic freedom”, the protesters wrote in one letter.

In his letter of reversal, Professor Elmendorf said “the broader faculty input I have now sought and received has persuaded me that my decision was not the best one for the school”.

The dean said the Kennedy School “will extend an offer to Mr Roth to serve as a fellow. I hope that our community will be able to benefit from his deep experience in a wide range of human rights issues.”

After his rejection by Harvard, Mr Roth accepted a visiting fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania.

Mr Roth, in a statement posted to Twitter, said he was “thrilled” by Professor Elmendorf’s reversal and would accept the Harvard fellowship, but also chastised the dean for not being more forthcoming about the reasons behind his original decision against him.

“The problem of people penalised for criticising Israel is not limited to me, and most scholars and students have no comparable capacity to mobilise public attention,” Mr Roth wrote.

The Harvard protest occurred as students at the University of Chicago have been protesting against a course hosted by Meir Elran, a veteran general in the Israeli army, “Security, Counter-Terrorism, and Resilience: The Israeli Case”.

A group calling itself University of Chicago Students for Justice in Palestine called the course a matter of “indoctrinating US students with the mindset and worldview of the Israeli military”.

Dr Elran told Times Higher Education that he was not interested in debating the matter. “Demanding boycott of academic activities is unacceptable as a means for public discourse,” he said.




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