Harvard Dean gives into media pressure, awards anti-Israel activist human rights fellowship

The Dean of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government caved to leftist media pressure by awarding an anti-Israel activist a human rights fellowship.

For the 2021-2022 school year, the Jewish News Syndicate reported that Harvard was ranked the most anti-Semitic higher education institution in America.

The Dean of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Douglas Elmendorf, has caved to leftist media pressure by awarding Kenneth Roth a human rights fellowship despite controversy over Roth’s anti-Israel bias.

Roth was the executive director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) from 1993 to 2022. During the summer of 2022, Roth was contacted by the Carr Center for Human Rights at Harvard with the offer of a fellowship pending approval from Elmendorf, according to Reuters.

Elmendorf denied Roth the fellowship, allegedly due to Roth’s work against Israel during his tenure at HRW.

Roth argues that his sharp criticism of Israel would have angered Kennedy School donors, making financial concerns the real reason for Elmendorf’s initial rejection.

If any academic institution can afford to abide by principle, to refuse to compromise academic freedom under real or presumed donor pressure, it is Harvard, the world’s richest university. Yet the Kennedy School’s dean, Douglas Elmendorf, vetoed a human rights fellowship that had been offered to me because of my criticism of Israel,” Roth stated in a January 10 op-ed in The Guardian “As best we can tell, donor reaction was his concern.”

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“Unless Harvard makes amends,” Roth stated on Twitter, “scholars will be left to fear that criticism of Israel — or commentary on other controversial topics — can be a career killer.” 

On January 19, Elmendorf recanted his original position and approved Roth’s fellowship, which Roth attributes to the intense media campaign waged in his favor.

Roth responded to the announcement by saying that he was “grateful to the many people…who expressed outrage over [Elmendorf’s] veto of a fellowship for me due to my criticism of Israel . He clearly would not have reversed course without it.”

In response to the allegations initiated by Roth and the media, Elmendorf explicitly clarified in his press release that “donors do not affect our consideration of academic matters.”

Elmendorf elaborates that after consulting with members of the faculty, he believes that his initial “decision was not the best one for the School” and that he is  “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 evidence suggests, however, that both Roth and HRW have an anti-Jewish bias.

HRW strongly advocates for the Palestinian “right to return,” which in effect denies any Jewish-national claim to Israel. The NGO Monitor also reports that the HRW has repeatedly referred to Israel as an “apartheid state” and was one of the first organizations to normalize doing so.

HRW also actively lobbies for the boycott, divestment, and sanction of Israel, also known as the BDS movement, which Campus Reform has previously covered in relation to college campuses.

Further, Roth has also been personally hostile towards Jews, including his insinuation that Judaism is a “primitive” religion, according to the New York Sun.

As Featured Columnist Jonathan S. Tobin identifies in his Jewish News Syndicate piece, the controversy over choosing Roth as a human rights fellow at Havard stems from the “vicious campaign to delegitimize Israel and Zionism that was the centerpiece of HRW’s activity during [Roth’s] long tenure there.” 

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Harvard is not immune to anti-Jewish bias.

For the 2021-2022 school year, the Jewish News Syndicate reported that Harvard was ranked the most anti-Semitic higher education institution in America, according to the AMCHA Initiative, a pro-Israel American campus group. The study documented a total of 25 anti-Jewish bias incident reports at Harvard during the academic year, more than any other institution.

From 2018 to 2022, Campus Reform reported that 92% of reports and editorials on Israel in the Harvard Crimson student newspaper were negatively slanted.

Campus Reform has also interviewed Jewish students at Harvard that do not feel safe publicly celebrating Jewish holidays on campus.

Responding to the Kennedy School’s official announcement on Twitter, Arsen Ostrovsky stated that Elmendof’s “pitiful cowardice” and “abandonment” of principles has “shamed the entire school now” by “rewarding this antisemite Ken Roth.”

Ostrovsky is an international human rights attorney and CEO of the International Legal Forum (ILF), a global network of lawyers in defense of Israel and victims of anti-Semitic attacks.

In response for comment from the ILF, Ostrovsky stated, “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,” which was published in Israel Hayom.

Campus Reform has contacted Roth, the Kennedy School, HRW, and Ostrovsky for comment and will update the story accordingly.

Follow Gabrielle M. Etzel on Twitter.