Harvard’s Kennedy School’s denial of a fellowship to Kenneth Roth, the former head of Human Rights Watch, because of his criticism of Israeli policies in the West Bank and Gaza is only the latest example of the corporate role played by Harvard’s most prestigious think tank on public policy. Roth, who has spent the last three decades at HRW defending human rights around the world, was offered a senior fellowship at the School’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy. It was quickly withdrawn.
The school’s dean, Douglas Elmendorf, blocked the appointment following pressure from donors and supporters of Israel and its apartheid policies. Hundreds of Harvard affiliates have now called on Elmendorf to resign as Dean. The critics of Elmendorf include former Harvard president Lawrence Summers.
As America’s leading human rights defender, Roth has criticized numerous governments that violated human rights, including Israel’s. No one has been more aggressive in this area than Kenneth Roth, who has challenged all those who have abused their power and authority. No one has ever suggested that Roth’s criticisms of Israel were based on racial or religious animus.
In view of the fact that there are so few defenders of human rights and that the new Israeli government is poised to further suppress the human rights of its minority Palestinian population as well as those Palestinians in the occupied territory, the Harvard decision becomes more shocking. The fact that Roth’s parents were refugees from Hitler’s Germany, and that the Roth family lost members in the Holocaust makes Harvard’s decision even more ironic and unconscionable. From both the standpoint of human rights and academic freedom, Harvard and its Kennedy School mark themselves as failures.