Harvard denies fellowship to former Human Rights Watch head over ‘anti-Israel bias’

 Former Human Rights Watch director Kenneth Roth was offered a position at the Kennedy School’s Carr Center for Public Policy in May, but his acceptance has now been revoked.

By Bradley Martin, JNS

Former Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth was denied a fellowship position at Harvard’s Kennedy School due to his “anti-Israel bias,” The Nation reported on Jan. 5.

Roth was reportedly offered the position by Carr Center for Public Policy Executive Director Sushma Raman in May, and accepted it the following month. However, the decision would be overruled by the center’s dean, Douglas Elmendorf, who concluded that Roth’s tweets showed an anti-Israel bias.

“So much for academic freedom at Harvard’s Kennedy School,” tweeted Roth in response to the ruling. “Dean Douglas Elmendorf was so fearful of HRW’s reporting on Israel (applying the same standards as HRW does everywhere else) that he vetoed a fellowship that the Kennedy Carr Center offered me.”

Roth went on to slam this decision as indicative of Elmendorf’s “lack of backbone.”

Professor Gerald M. Steinberg, founder of NGO Monitor and a longtime critic of Roth, was blamed by The Nation for his work detailing the former HRW executive director’s anti-Israel bias. Roth told The Nation that NGO Monitor is “profoundly biased” because it objected to any criticism of Israel. Roth also added that he is Jewish and became involved with human rights issues after hearing stories about his father escaping Nazi Germany in 1938.

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In response to The Nation article’s publication, Steinberg tweeted a screenshot of a 2009 New York Times op-ed by HRW founder Robert Bernstein criticizing Roth and HRW for giving fodder to those who portray Israel as a “pariah state.” Steinberg also shared his 2021 academic paper in the Israel Affairs journal documenting HRW’s anti-Israel agenda.

“Ken Roth again exploits his father’s ‘experience living in Nazi Germany’—as if that justifies a lifetime [of] hate & lies,” tweeted Steinberg. “My take: The constant invocation of the Shoah by Kenneth Roth and his defenders is unconvincing and odious.”

Steinberg then shared his 2007 article criticizing Roth and his defenders for their “efforts to rewrite and distort the Holocaust.”

The Nation article acknowledged Bernstein’s criticism by noting that HRW had responded to its founder, claiming that the organization has “produced more than 1,700 reports and other commentaries on the Middle East and North Africa, the vast majority of which were about countries other than Israel.”

The head of The International Legal Forum, Arsen Ostrovsky, lauded Elmendorf’s decision to block Roth’s fellowship in a tweet.

“You don’t deserve a fellowship,” Ostrovsky wrote to Roth, “not when all you have done is peddle in Jew hatred, lies and endorse terror against Israel, masquerading as a human rights leader. I’m sure Al Jazeera will offer you a spot!”