Harvard Reverses Course on Advocate Who Criticized Israel

Blocking the former head of Human Rights Watch stirred debate over academic freedom and donor influence


Kenneth Roth, the former director of Human Rights Watch, in New York last April. The Harvard Kennedy School recently reversed its early decision to reject his fellowship application because of his criticisms of Israel. (Todd Heisler/The New York Times)

Jennifer Schuessler and Marc Tracy, New York Times, Jan. 19, 2023

The Harvard Kennedy School reversed course on Thursday and said it would offer a fellowship to a leading human rights advocate it had previously rejected, after news of the decision touched off a public outcry over academic freedom, donor influence and the boundaries of criticism of Israel.

The controversy erupted earlier this month, when The Nation published a lengthy article revealing that last summer, the school’s dean, Douglas Elmendorf, had vetoed a proposal by the school’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy to offer a one-year fellowship to Kenneth Roth, the recently retired executive director of Human Rights Watch. At the time, Elmendorf told colleagues that he was concerned about perceptions that Human Rights Watch had a bias against Israel, according to two faculty members.

The revelation prompted sharp rebukes from prominent free expression groups; a letter signed by more than 1,000 Harvard students, faculty and alumni criticizing what it called “a shameful decision to blacklist Kenneth Roth”; and private complaints from faculty.

In an email to the Kennedy School community on Thursday, Elmendorf said his decision had been an “error” and the school would be extending an invitation to Roth.

Elmendorf, an economist who served as director of the Congressional Budget Office from 2009 to 2015, also pushed back against the charge that donors had influenced his initial decision, which was suggested in the Nation article and reiterated in public statements by Roth.

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

He did not specify why he had rejected Mr. Roth’s fellowship except to say that it was “based on my evaluation of his potential contributions to the school.”

As for Roth, who after Harvard’s about-face accepted an offer from the University of Pennsylvania, where he is now a fellow at Perry World House, Elmendorf said, “I hope that our community will be able to benefit from his deep experience in a wide range of human rights issues.”

Roth, reached by phone after the reversal was announced, said he was pleased by the decision, which he attributed to “overwhelming” concern from the faculty, and that he would use the fellowship to work on a book about his decades of human rights advocacy. But he also called for more transparency.

“Dean Elmendorf has said he made this decision because of people who ‘mattered’ to him at the university,” Roth said, referring to published accounts by faculty members. “He still refuses to say who those people who mattered to him were.”

And he called on Harvard to make a stronger commitment to academic freedom, including for people who aren’t in a position to mobilize public opinion.

“Penalizing people for criticizing Israel is hardly limited to me,” he continued. “What is the Kennedy School, and Harvard more broadly, going to do to show this episode conveys a renewed commitment to academic freedom, rather than just exceptional treatment for one well-known individual?”


The Harvard Kennedy School, a public policy school in Cambridge, Mass., is home to a dozen research centers, including the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy. (Kayana Szymczak)

The incident was the latest flare-up in the ongoing debate about when criticism of Israel shades into antisemitism, and when charges of antisemitism, in turn, are used to shut down criticism.

In interviews (and on Twitter), Roth, a Jew whose father fled Nazi Germany as a child, said that Elmendorf’s initial decision reflected the influence of those who seek to delegitimize Human Rights Watch, which has monitored abuses in more than 100 countries, as an impartial observer on Israel. And he has described it as a case of “donor-driven censorship,” though he said he had no proof.

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U.S. Palestinian Rights Group in Federal Appeals Court 

Confronts Challenge to Human Rights Advocacy

  

Last week a U.S.-based Palestinian rights organization asked the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold the dismissal of a lawsuit brought by the Jewish National Fund and several U.S. citizens who live in Israel. Citing the speech and expressive activities of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, including its support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, the lawsuit  had argued that the group provided “material support” for terrorism. 

In dismissing the suit in March 2021, the lower court said the arguments were, “to say the least, not persuasive.” The suit is part of a broader effort to criminalize and silence the political activities of supporters of Palestinian rights, advocates say. 

“The worldwide movement for Palestinian freedom is growing,” said Ahmad Abuznaid, Executive Director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights. “USCPR’s work to advocate for Palestinian human rights is a critical part of that freedom struggle, or else right-wing forces allied with the Israeli government would not be repeatedly trying to silence us. All the more reason to keep up our work to build toward justice for all.”

Visit our website to learn more.

Distorted Definition: Redefining Antisemitism to Silence Advocacy for Palestinian Rights

One of the primary tactics opponents of the movement for Palestinian freedom have used to silence political debate is the branding of all support for Palestinian rights as anti-Jewish. Roughly half of the incidents of suppression Palestine Legal responds to each year include false accusations of antisemitism, totaling 895 incidents from 2014 to 2020.   

In an effort to add legitimacy to this tactic, Israel lobby groups have employed distorted definition of antisemitism that encompasses virtually all criticism of Israel and have attempted to entrench this definition through policy changes and legislation. 

This page tracks the evolution of the cynical ways Israel lobby groups have abused the definition and the definition’s impact on advocates for Palestinian rights.

We invite you to explore the following components:

 
2004 – 2008

Origins of a Politicized Redefinition

After decades of attempting to smear Palestine advocacy with false antisemitism accusations, Israel lobby groups develop a new Israel-centered definition of antisemitism. It is adopted by an EU body, and the U.S. State Department cites it in a report.

  • The European Union Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) begins working with the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and other Jewish and Israel advocacy groups to expand the definition of antisemitism. The AJC encourages inclusion of criticism of Israel in this redefinition.

    At the same time, Israeli politician Natan Sharansky creates the “3Ds Test” which defines “delegitimizing,” “demonizing” or “applying double standards” to Israel as examples of antisemitism.

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Department of Education to investigate Berkeley Law School

Complaint from Israeli lawfare group prompts investigation over student group challenging Zionism

MICHAEL ARRIA, MONDOWEISS, DECEMBER 16, 2022

The Case Against ALEC Lawmakers Continues in Arizona Supreme Court

On November 15, the Arizona Palestine Solidarity Alliance (APSA), Black Lives Matter (BLM) Phoenix Metro, Mijente, and Puente continue their fight against the corporate-led American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in the Arizona Supreme Court. The groups will join the Center for Consitutional Rights and the Peoples Law Firm for oral argument in court.

Our lawsuit argues that the lawmakers, who together make up a quorum of several Arizona legislative committees, have violated Arizona’s Open Meeting Law by meeting behind closed doors at a private ALEC gathering in Scottsdale, Arizona, in 2019. A closed meeting of a quorum of an Arizona legislative committee where members debate, discuss, deliberate, or otherwise work is a violation of the Arizona Open Meeting Law. In a major victory in the case, on February 15 this year, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled that we may continue to pursue the lawsuit against 26 Arizona lawmakers who attended ALEC’s closed meetings in 2019. The court said the legislature cannot exempt itself from its own Open Meeting Law, rejected all of the defendants’ other arguments for dismissal, and sent the case back to the trial court. 

The initial filing in 2019 came after the Center for Constitutional Rights, Dream Defenders, Palestine Legal, The Red Nation, and the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights together released the report “ALEC Attacks: How evangelicals and corporations captured state lawmaking to safeguard white supremacy and corporate power,” which examines the harmful impact of ALEC laws on people of color. 

ALEC provides a ‘pay-to-play’ membership system in which its corporate members pay high fees in return for closed-door meetings with lawmakers to deliberate, draft, and vote on “model bills,” which are later introduced by ALEC-affiliated state lawmakers across the country. ALEC boasts that approximately one third of all state lawmakers are members. They are required to sign “loyalty oaths” to “put the interests of [ALEC] first.”

Between 2010 and 2018, ALEC’s “model bills” were introduced nearly 2,900 times, and more than 600 became law. The Arizona groups leading this fight point out that marginalized communities, particularly communities of color, have been disproportionately harmed by laws produced by ALEC. These include Stand Your Ground laws, voter ID laws, legislation targeting the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement supporting Palestinian human rights, and “critical infrastructure” laws that criminalize protests by Indigenous people and other activists against oil and gas companies. 

At ALEC’s 2009 meeting, anti-immigrant former state senator Russell Pearce introduced to ALEC members what would later become Arizona’s infamous SB 1070. The law granted authority to law enforcement to racially profile Latinx people in the state. Similar laws were soon adopted in Utah, Georgia, Indiana, Alabama, and South Carolina. 

 

Rising up against Israel’s repression


Twitter StandWithThe6 600

Today across Palestine, we’re witnessing the Palestinian people rise up united once again. It is a moment in which our people declare we will not die quietly at the hands of Israel’s massive violence, but we will resist, and keep resisting, until Palestine is free.

Palestinian people on the ground are on a general strike today. The youth of Shuafat refugee camp called for the strike after Israel killed 17 Palestinian people in October alone, including Odai Tamimi yesterday, and after a series of violent attacks by Israeli settlers and soldiers.

At the same time, we’re nearing the one-year mark since the Israeli government attacked six Palestinian organizations to stop their essential human rights work, on Oct. 22, 2021. Israel wants to shut down the #StandWithThe6 organizations, and we can’t let that happen.

Israel’s brutal violence and repression of Palestinian human rights defenders is part of its all-out assault on the Palestinian people, especially anyone who dares to challenge the colonial Israeli regime.

Today, prominent supporters of Palestinian human rights like Dr. Cornel West and Rep. Rashida Tlaib are speaking up to #StandWithThe6, and you can join them.

The #StandWithThe6 organizations are currently facing Israel’s continued repression, from the shuttering of their offices this past August to Israel’s imprisonment of Palestinian human rights defender Salah Hammouri of Addameer without charge or trial.

Today, they’re asking: What happens #IfWeDisappear? Who will hold the Israeli government accountable for its brutal violence, as Israel continues to kill Palestinian people every day?

Watch and share the videos now.

Palestinian people on the ground are creating bold new ways to resist Israel’s colonial violence day by day, and we must defend their rights as we all push toward liberation.

Take action:

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Our right to boycott is headed to the Supreme Court

Just Vision, 10/20/22

Moments ago, the ACLU petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a case of national significance on the right to boycott. It’s a case with massive implications for First Amendment rights.  

As you know, we’re tracking the spread of anti-boycott legislation sweeping state houses in the United States – and with great alarm. Our latest documentary, Boycott, follows plaintiffs in Texas, Arizona and Arkansas as they take on tremendous risk by suing their states over the constitutionality of these laws. One of those plaintiffs, Alan Leveritt, is at the center of the case now in front of the Supreme Court. 

If you’re new to this story, here’s the gist: anti-boycott laws, now passed in 34 states, require public contractors to sign a pledge promising that they do not, and will not, boycott Israel for the duration of their contract. Several Americans have challenged these laws, suing their respective states for violating their First Amendment rights. In almost every case — from Texas to Arizona to Kansas to Georgia — the plaintiffs won, with courts finding the anti-boycott laws unconstitutional. 

But this past summer, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Alan’s case that boycotts are not protected by the First Amendment, a shocking break from Supreme Court precedent. The Eighth Circuit determined that boycotts, even when politically motivated, are strictly economic activity and not a form of expression. 

Video: Boycotts that changed history

As a news publisher, Alan believes the court is dead wrong. As he wrote in a New York Times Op-Ed: “We don’t take political positions in return for advertising. If we signed the pledge, I believe, we’d be signing away our right to freedom of conscience. And as journalists, we would be unworthy of the protections granted us under the First Amendment.”  

As the Supreme Court weighs whether to hear the case, we’re bracing ourselves for the implications. It’s become clear that these laws target more than just those advocating for Palestinian rights. Israel-focused anti-boycott laws have already been used as a template to ban boycotts on several other issues. There are now copycat bills, using nearly identical language, targeting boycotts of fossil fuels, firearms and other industries. (See our legislative tracker for what’s currently in play around the country and to see if your state is impacted.) 

It’s not only advocacy for the environment, gun safety and Palestinian rights that stands on the line — but the very right to wield boycotts as a form of political expression. We’re also fully aware that anti-boycott laws are the tip of the iceberg: across the country, states – backed by corporate lobbyists and right-wing coalitions – are passing anti-protest laws designed to punish and, in some cases, criminalize political organizing and dissent. 

We’re watching this story carefully, whether the Supreme Court hears it or not. But we’re also clear-eyed – the power to affect real, tangible change lies not in the courts, but in the hands of the people. We will continue to amplify those at the front lines, to ensure that our right to voice dissent is sacrosanct and fully protected.   

Onward,

Suhad Babaa
Executive Director & President, Just Vision

Anti-Palestinianism makes the misuse of antisemitism possible

Beating back anti-Palestinian prejudice, which shouldn’t even exist in the first place, doesn’t feel like a win.


SHAHD ABUSALAMA (FACEBOOK)

MONA ABUAMARA, MONDOWEISS, AUGUST 20, 2022

Anti-Palestinianism has been increasingly witnessed worldwide but especially within western liberal democracies. It presents itself in every attempt to portray any act carried by Israel and its lobby against Palestine, the Palestinians, and those advocating for Palestine, as inevitable for the protection of Jewish communities.

Antisemitism is a grave assault on humanity, and the world has witnessed firsthand its atrocious ramifications. But Never Again in no way contradicts striving for a free Palestine—if anything, these principles of universal rights, freedoms, and values go hand in hand. Using accusations of antisemitism to suppress voices advocating for the legitimate rights of the Palestinians dilutes the accusation of antisemitism and empowers real antisemites.

In the past few years, exploiting the working definition of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) for antisemitism has become one of the latest acts of subterfuge practiced by Israel and its lobby.

By employing its fluid, Israel-centered description, coupled with its vague language and the baseless association between Palestine advocacy and antisemitism, the Israel lobby used its newfangled definition to label and smear Palestine advocates, including Jews, as either antisemites or self-hating Jews.

Clearly, being exposed for being an apartheid state is disgruntling. But Israel’s supporters seem to be laboring under the delusion that the Palestinians will simply roll over and accept their lot and embrace their place within the apartheid system. All of this is to circumvent the bad press that might disrupt the charade of “the only democracy in the Middle East”

With the help of its lobby, Israel has been at work covering up its atrocities, weaponizing its distorted depiction of the IHRA definition of antisemitism to urge the international community to normalize discrimination and prejudice against the Palestinians. The act is both selfish and appalling.

Recently Maram Mansour, a Palestinian journalist, won a lawsuit against her wrongful dismissal by Deutsche Welle. Before her, Shahd Abusalama, a Palestinian associate lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University, was reinstated after being unlawfully suspended and investigated by her university. These cases only represent those who were able to successfully fight the injustices done to them. Unfortunately, there are countless other Palestinians and world activists who have and continue to be wrongly prosecuted. You might have heard of some of their agonizing tales, but there are so many that no one will ever encounter. 

They were acquitted of allegations that were clearly baseless and should never have been taken seriously in the first place, and they were reinstated into positions that should never have been stripped from them. Not your typical win.

Indeed, although Maram and Shahd were ultimately vindicated, they shouldn’t have been on the proverbial stand in the first place. Let us pause here to examine what they have theoretically won. They were acquitted of allegations that were clearly baseless and should never have been taken seriously in the first place, and they were reinstated into positions that should never have been stripped from them. Not your typical win.

Why were the attacks against them warranted to begin with? The answer, simply, is anti-Palestinianism. And of course, the fact that they eventually “won” doesn’t erase the damage that has been done, after the slander has been made public. Who will be held accountable for spewing such accusations? No one. A quiet settlement occurs, followed by a noiseless admission of the falsehood of those accusations. Little more.  

In a way, this shouldn’t be surprising, as the campaigns have by now become rather predictable—the goal was never about delivering a guilty verdict; the tortuous, punishing battle to overturn it was the whole point. These women persevered in the face of this adversity, but who else might balk in the face of a similar threat? Who might think twice, from now on, knowing that they may be put through the ringer like Maram and Shahd?

Israel and its lobby use the smear of antisemitism to defend their aggressions and to warrant their anti-Palestinianism. 

Of course, Israel has much to fear from people like Shahb and Maram. It needs shielding simply because these advocates have dared to stand with Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan, or Masafer Yatta—demanding a stop to the ongoing Palestinian Nakba. Israel is afraid when free voices call for the release of Palestinian political prisoners and for an end to the 15-year blockade on Gaza. 

Jews have nothing to do with this, and none of the above is a threat to Jews. It is, however, a threat to the continuation of a brutal apartheid regime. 

Ask yourself: would the Palestinians have acted differently had the religion or nationality of their oppressor been different? Or maybe Palestinians, like any oppressed group, are simply demanding their legitimate rights?

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October 5-9, 2022
Acclaimed Film Boycott free online

An online film salon for the acclaimed film:
BOYCOTT

Sunday, 9 October 2022

1pm PT, 2pm MT, 3pm CT, 4pm ET (US, Canada)
Register here

A bracing look at the far-reaching implications of anti-boycott legislation sweeping the U.S. and designed to penalize businesses and individuals that choose to boycott Israel due to its human rights record. 

BOYCOTT illustrates how these laws are being used as templates to stop us from boycotting around other justice issues, further limiting our constitutional right to free speech. 

A legal thriller with “accidental plaintiffs” at the center of the story:

When a news publisher in Arkansas, an attorney in Arizona, and a speech therapist in Texas are told they must choose between their jobs and their political beliefs, they launch legal battles that expose an attack on freedom of speech that has swept across 33 U.S. states

BOYCOTT is an inspiring tale of everyday Americans standing up to protect our rights in an age of shifting politics and threats to freedom of speech. 

The film will be available for free viewing for a few days only, through a special arrangement with the film producers at Just Vision.

You must register to receive access to the film and to join the discussion

When you register, you will get an email on October 4th, with a link and password to watch the film. You will have 4 days to watch the film for free before the discussion on Oct 9th.
 

THE PANEL:

BAHIA AMAWI: protagonist of the film Boycott, free-speech plaintiff vs. Texas Attorney General and Pflugerville, TX School District

 

Special Guest, PETER BEINERT: Editor-at-Large, Jewish Currents; CNN & MSNBC Commentator; Professor of Journalism & Political Science, Newmark School of Journalism, CUNY; and Fellow, Foundation for Middle East Peace (FMEP)

JEN MARLOWE: JustVision filmmaker, author, playwright, journalist, and human rights activist

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President Biden: Stop Israeli Government’s Attacks on Palestinian Civil Society

(Final version, emphasis added)

Dear colleagues and comrades,

Thank you so much for signing on to our global open letter calling on the Biden administration to take immediate action in response to Israel’s escalated attack on Palestinian civil society. The letter was signed by over 290 social justice, civil rights, human rights, and faith-based organizations, as well as grassroots movement partners from around the world. President Biden’s chief of staff has confirmed receipt and we will keep you updated on next steps.
 
We called on President Biden to not only condemn and reject the Israeli government’s authoritarian assault on Palestinian civil society, but to take concrete steps to protect our colleagues and work to eliminate the conditions that make their vital work so necessary.
 
Here is the link to the letter on our website, and links to our social media accounts – TWIGFB – for you to share with your networks.

Thanks again and onward,

Nadia Ben-Youssef
Advocacy Director
Center for Constitutional Rights | Justice takes a fight.
666 Broadway, 7th Floor New York, NY 10012 (Lenapehoking)

President Biden: Stop Israeli Government’s Attacks on Palestinian Civil Society