Harvard reverses decision denying top anti-Israel critic a fellowship

Critics accused Roth of once again disseminating tropes about Jews using money to leverage power.

By World Israel News Staff

Harvard Kennedy School on Thursday rescinded its decision to deny a fellowship to the former head of Human Rights Watch (HRW) and rabid anti-Israel critic Kenneth Roth.

Roth launched a media blitz after he was denied the fellowship, accusing the Kennedy School’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy of “donor-driven censorship” and heeding the calls of pro-Israel donors, even though he produced no evidence of such, apart from hearsay from a Carr Center professor. Roth cited Kathryn Sikkink as telling him that Elmendorf’s decision was because Human Rights Watch had an “anti-Israel bias.”

Critics accused Roth of once again disseminating tropes about Jews using money to leverage power. Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, said that he and his supporters had “concoct[ed] a conspiracy theory” that the dean’s decision had been influenced by Israeli donors.

“It’s a textbook case of classic antisemitism: It’s not the leadership of the Kennedy School that made this decision, oh no,” Greenblatt wrote in an op-ed. “It’s the powerful and monied Jewish elite that really influences things behind the scenes.”

It isn’t the first time Roth has been charged with spreading antisemitic conspiracy theories. During Israel’s 2006 war with the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon, former head of the Anti-Defamation League, Abe Foxman, accused Roth of engaging in a “classic anti-Semitic stereotype about Jews” after Roth said that Israel’s “primitive morals” were “twenty eyes for an eye.”

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Dean Douglas Elmendorf on Thursday insisted that his decision to deny Roth a fellowship was “not influenced by donors.”

“Donors do not affect our consideration of academic matters. My decision also was not made to limit debate at the Kennedy School about human rights in any country. As a community we are steadfastly committed to free inquiry and including a wide range of views on public policy, and the appointment of a Fellow is never an endorsement of the views of that individual nor a refutation of other views. My decision on Mr. Roth last summer was based on my evaluation of his potential contributions to the School.”

“I now believe that I made an error in my decision not to appoint him as a Fellow at our Carr Center for Human Rights. I am 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,” he said.

Roth responded that he was “thrilled” at Elmendorf’s change of heart.

“I have long felt that the Carr Center, and the Kennedy School, would be a congenial place for me to work on the book that I am writing. I look forward to spending time with colleagues and students,” he said.

But he also called on the dean to identify the people behind his veto decision.

“Full transparency is key to ensuring that such influence is not exerted in other cases,” he said.

“I remain worried about academic freedom” for those who may harbor criticism of Israel, Roth said.

“Given my three decades leading Human Rights Watch, I was able to shine an intense spotlight on Dean Elmendorf’s decision, but what about others? The problem of people penalized for criticising Israel is not limited to me.”

Israeli watchdog NGO monitor in a report released last year accused Roth of legitimizing antisemitism under the banner of human rights.

On Thursday the group slammed the Kenneth School’s decision.

“In 30 years as head of Human Rights Watch, Roth has consistently singled-out Israel uniquely for demonization and delegitimization, using numerous false and distorted claims. These campaigns contributed significantly to antisemitism, and added to the targeting of Jewish students on university campuses,” the group wrote in a statement.

The founder of Human Rights Watch, Robert Bernstein, condemned Roth for his obsessive focus on criticizing Israel, which far exceeded that of any of the “authoritarian regimes with appalling human rights records.”

“Human Rights Watch has lost critical perspective on a conflict in which Israel has been repeatedly attacked by Hamas and Hezbollah, organizations that go after Israeli citizens and use their own people as human shields,” he wrote in a 2009 New York Times op-ed.

“These groups are supported by the government of Iran, which has openly declared its intention not just to destroy Israel but to murder Jews everywhere. This incitement to genocide is a violation of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.”

“Leaders of Human Rights Watch know that Hamas and Hezbollah chose to wage war from densely populated areas, deliberately transforming neighborhoods into battlefields. They know that more and better arms are flowing into both Gaza and Lebanon and are poised to strike again. And they know that this militancy continues to deprive Palestinians of any chance for the peaceful and productive life they deserve.

“Yet Israel, the repeated victim of aggression, faces the brunt of Human Rights Watch’s criticism,” Bernstein said.

HRW even spread the lie that Israel was denying COVID-19 vaccines to Palestinians, when it was Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that refused the Israeli government’s offer of vaccines.