Harvard’s anti-Israel conference

Harvard University seeks to quell the growing scandal surrounding its high-profile hosting of the “One State Conference: Israel/Palestine and the One State Solution,” whose topic is dissolution of the Jewish state. The speakers are a who’s who of extremist anti-Israel activists from the academy and fringe groups such as the Jewish Voice for Peace. The university claims the event is student-inspired and organized — and not Harvard’s responsibility.

In the meantime, two erstwhile sponsors have removed their logos from the event — The Weatherhead Center for Internationals Affairs and the Carr Center for Human Rights. The Kennedy School logo remains; however, a disclaimer has been added to the conference Web site, reading:

The One-State Conference is run solely by the student organizers, and students alone are responsible for all aspects of the program, including content and speakers, as with all student-run events. It does not represent the views of the Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University, or any Harvard school or center.

As in the case of the BDS conference at the University of Pennsylvania in early February, when the administration there claimed it had to allow the event — including providing free space — because a legally constituted student group wanted it, the question has to be asked: Are Ivy League administrators selected for their ability to muster totally disingenuous, ludicrous defenses of university policy? Do Harvard’s pooh-bahs truly expect the public to believe the university would allow “student organizers” to run a campus gay-bashing conference, or a KKK convocation? Clearly, Harvard is making an exception for hate-speech directed against the Jewish state, whose annihilation is being promoted in one-sided panels and biased keynote speeches.

But there is another dimension to the disingenuousness of Harvard’s disavowals. The conference is not just a student affair. In many ways it represents the views of influential faculty and others. It grows out of fertile anti-Israel Harvard ground and it includes prominent faculty as speakers. The Kennedy School of Government, with its sharply skewed Middle East Initiative program; the university’s stridently anti-Israel Center for Middle Eastern Studies and biased Outreach Center; the various anti-Israel events and personalities at the Weatherhead Center, at the Carr Center for Human Rights and in other departments — all have in recent years promoted biased attacks against the Jewish state. A conference advocating the dissolution of Israel in this environment is a logical continuation of classroom teaching, public lectures, educational “outreach” and extreme anti-Israel activism by numerous professors and staff.

Funding for the event, it should be noted, is provided by Harvard’s Provost and the Weatherhead Center. And locating the conference in the prestigious Kennedy School Forum lends still greater prominence to the gathering.

Among Harvard faculty and affiliate staff in the conference lineup are the following:

Stephen Walt, former academic dean at the Kennedy School and currently Belfer Professor of International Affairs there. He’s part of the Kennedy School’s Middle East Initiative and is also coauthor of the ferociously anti-Israel and factually shoddy “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy.” Walt writes a blog for “Foreign Policy” that attacks Israel as an apartheid state and denigrates its supporters.

Duncan Kennedy is a radical professor of law at Harvard Law School who has leveled extreme, factually distorted charges against Israel. He teaches a course heavily reliant on fringe anti-Israel voices, some of whom, such as Illan Pappé, are also appearing at the conference. Kennedy has called for boycott and divestment from Israel.

Diana Buttu, a Fellow at Harvard’s Middle East Initiative, and former legal advisor to the Palestinian negotiating team, is the host of a seven-part lecture series sponsored by Harvard. She is also an organizer of the One-State Conference.

Timothy McCarthy is a lecturer at Harvard and a member of the Board of Advisors of Freedom Forward, a pro-Palestinian activist group.

Naor Ben-Yahoyada is a visiting lecturer and Assistant Director of Undergraduate Studies in Harvard’s Anthropology Department, Director of Undergraduate Programs at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, and a visiting post-doctoral fellow at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies. In 2007 he was part of a campaign that distributed wanted posters targeting Israel’s then-chief of General Staff, Dan Halutz, calling him a war criminal, and in 2009 he spoke at an Israel Apartheid Week event in Rhode Island.

Kennedy School Dean David Ellwood reiterated the school’s claim of institutional innocence in a February 24 release, insisting repeatedly that students alone are responsible for the event. He was able to muster notably little conviction in expressing the university’s view of the upcoming hatefest, saying only Harvard does not “endorse or support” the conference goals. Evidently deploring, denouncing or condemning a conference that calls for the destruction of the Jewish state would be sticking his neck out, perhaps offending too many faculty members.

Ultimately, Harvard, like other universities, will be unable to persuade the public that it is unconnected from events bearing its logo, occurring on its property, underwritten by its funds, organized by its “fellows” and featuring its faculty as speakers.