Harvard axes fellowship for expert who affixed ‘apartheid’ label on ‘Israel’, evidently under donor pressure

Harvard axes fellowship for expert who affixed ‘apartheid’ label on Israel, evidently under donor pressure

The Nation documents that Ken Roth–the man who stuck the apartheid label on Israel as head of Human Rights Watch — lost a fellowship at Harvard’s Kennedy School because of his criticism of Israel.



There is an excellent piece in the Nation this week by Michael Massing documenting that Ken Roth–the man who affixed the apartheid label on Israel as head of Human Rights Watch in 2021 — lost out on a fellowship at Harvard’s Kennedy School last year because of his criticism of Israel.

Massing quotes Roth and a Kennedy School official saying the offer from a human rights center at the school was withdrawn because of the Israel issue. Then Massing identifies several pro-Israel donors he suggests had influence over the dean, Douglas Elmendorf.

“I knew what he was driving at,” Roth says of his exchange with Elmendorf. “It’s always Israel.”…

Human Rights Watch, [human rights professor Kathryn Sikkink] was told [by the dean], has an “anti-Israel bias”; Roth’s tweets on Israel were of particular concern. 

It is plain from Massing’s reporting that Ken Roth’s crime was signing off on the massively-documented apartheid report on Israel. Roth did so only after Israel passed its nation-state law in 2018 granting Jews the exclusive rights in the land. “Apartheid” remains a red line in the American establishment. You’re not supposed to breathe the word in Congress. The New York Times respects the omerta.

The megadonors named by Massing (a close friend of mine) who presumably affected Elmendorf include: Thomas Kaplan, the chair of the 92d Street Y in New York– which cancels Palestinians; Leslie Wexner, the pro-Israel retailer; Idan Ofer, an Israeli billionaire, and wife Batia, both on the dean’s executive board; and Robert and Renee Belfer, philanthropists to many Israeli institutions. Ofer and Belfer have their names on buildings at the school (a point I made in 2008).

Massing details some of the pro-Israel programming generated by big gifts to the Kennedy School:

A rabbi representing Wexner approached the Kennedy School with the idea of bringing Israeli officials and civic leaders to Cambridge for a year of mid-career study, and the school agreed. Among the 10 fellows who come annually are ministry officials, local government representatives, policy analysts, and directors of nonprofits, as well as members of the Mossad, the Israel Defense Forces, and the Shin Bet security service.

Robert Belfer… has donated more than $20 million to the Kennedy School since the 1980s….According to the 990 forms of his family foundation, between 2011 and 2015 Belfer gave more than $300,000 to the American Jewish Committee, on whose board of governors he sits. In 2018, he joined with the Anti-Defamation League to endow a new fellowship at the Belfer Center to study disinformation, hate speech, and toxic content online.

The article is getting wide attention. Fearing its impact, Jonathan Greenblatt of the ADL has smeared Massing as a conspiracist. “This article concocts a conspiracy theory about the @Kennedy_School and the military-industrial complex and implicates Israel and the American Jewish community. It plays into antisemitic myths about power and money…” (A more sincere journalist than Massing I don’t know; Greenblatt doesn’t have the intellectual weight to shine Massing’s shoes.)

Harvard’s Palestine Solidarity Committee affirms Massing’s reporting today and references donors:

Unfortunately, this is expected from an institution that regularly accepts donations from and gives leadership positions to supporters of Israeli apartheid. HKS has repeatedly invited agents of Israeli colonial violence like IDF General Amos Yadlin to teach its students under the guise of “national security policy,” yet cites “anti-Israel bias” in its decision about Roth.

Ken Roth also pointed out the pro-Israel bias today:

@Kennedy_School recently welcomed retired Israeli Defense Forces General Amos Yadlin as a senior fellow https://thecrimson.com/article/2022/2/2/palestinian-advocacy-group-protest-hks/ but Dean Douglas Elmendorf vetoed my similar appointment because of my criticism of Israel.

Yadlin is not mentioned in Massing’s piece, my criticism of which is that he is not straightforward about the real villain. He says that the “fundamental reality” is that Harvard’s dean cannot “afford to alienate the US national security community, with which the school has such close ties.” That may well be the case; but Roth’s cancellation is not about the national security community, but the Israel lobby, in this case rich people who care about Israel.

There is now a pronounced pattern of prestige institutions denying or canceling appointments to critics of Israel because of major donors’ pressure, many of them wealthy pro-Israel Jews, a fact that of course makes people uncomfortable. Some examples:

–Cornel West said in 2021 that he did not get tenure at Harvard’s Divinity School because of pro-Israel donors.

–Steven Salaita’s appointment to teach American Indian studies at the the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign was canceled by the University chancellor during the Israeli Gaza massacre of 2014 under what was later revealed to be a campaign of donor pressure, animated by Salaita’s tweets about Israel’s war crimes. The chancellor met privately with big pro-Israel donors before blocking the appointment.

–Sut Jhally says that under donor pressure, the University of Massachusetts nearly quailed after Jhally set up a 2019 panel titled  “Not Backing Down: Israel, Free Speech & the Battle for Palestinian Rights,” featuring Roger Waters and Linda Sarsour. Jhally told the Israel lobby conference last year:

 I’ve been teaching at UMass for a while and there’s been lots of complaints about me from the kind of lunatic right, from the Zionist right, from CAMERA, etc. The university president kind of loves that. He was like, oh, I can protect you against CAMERA. But the moment, the moment the pressure came from donors,he caved. So it taught me a lot that the pressure is not just this right-wing pressure. It’s pressure from people that really matter. It’s pressure, as always, with money. 

–The biologist Robert Trivers was disinvited from a speaking engagement at a Harvard math program in 2007 after the late Jeffrey Epstein, who funded the program, reportedly ordered its director to cancel the invitation, on the authority of Alan Dershowitz, because Trivers had criticized Israel.

–Lior Halperin had her appointment rescinded (later restored) at a center for Jewish studies at the University of Washington because her dispassionate views of Zionist history upset a major donor (reported by Alice Rothchild). “I didn’t express the political views the donors wanted, and then a bunch of money went away.”

–In 2006 Marty Peretz said that there was a donor rebellion at Harvard when Larry Summers was ousted as Harvard president, which he ascribed to anti-Israel bias. “I know of at least three gifts in the $100 million range that were very likely to materialize and now are dicey.” 

As Massing points out, similar threats reportedly came to Harvard in March 2006 over then-academic dean of the Kennedy School Steve Walt’s authorship of the landmark paper on the Israel lobby that had been published by LRB.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *