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When it Comes to Hating Jews, Academic Freedom is in Full Bloom

If Ken Roth was responsible for such an epic libel and historical distortion, then just maybe he doesn’t belong anywhere near a university, most especially Harvard.
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January 22, 2023
“John Harvard monument (c. 1884) by Daniel Chester French (Cambridge, Massachusetts).” Getty Images

Antisemites come in many different shapes, sizes and even colors these days. Hating Jews crisscrosses ideologies, too—spanning the right and left, standing defiantly on the fringes and even among the less politically extreme.

Antisemitism diversity is the one place where the Alt-right is welcome in the woke world, with plenty of room along the spectrum for humankind’s oldest prejudice.

Think of it as a Jew-hating variety pack—the animus fungible, the participation trophies widely available. Step right up and either take a swipe or utter a slur. Unlike with a box of chocolates, what’s found inside is no real surprise.

It’s especially true nowadays, when publicly browbeating privileged whites is virtually a spectator sport. And for reasons no one can quite explain given their sooty Ellis Island origins, Jews today are taken for a bleached shade of Mayflower white.

How to explain the disparate cast of characters, the haters who no longer need to hide from polite company? Southern rednecks wearing white sheets are bedfellows with anti-government militia. The Nation of Islam shares common cause with Black Hebrew Israelites. Diehard progressives agree on this one solitary issue with anti-immigrant xenophobes. There seems to be an even larger quantity of self-hating Jews, too.

Who knew that Kayne West, a college dropout, had so much in common with the Kennedy School at Harvard University?

Yes, in the name of “academic freedom,” Harvard, like many universities, is becoming more and more inhospitable to Jews. Even its campus newspaper endorses the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel. This from a school already with a sketchy past. In the 1920s, Harvard capped the admission of Jews to its college. The president of the university raised caution about its “Jewish Problem”—admitting too many Jews, he surmised, swelled antisemitism on campus. The president’s bigoted remedy was shortened when Boston newspapers shamed the university into overturning his decision.

Its most recent ill-advised policy, however, will not be so easily reversed.

Ken Roth, the longtime director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), stepped down in April and had hoped to join the human rights group within the Kennedy School at Harvard. Its dean initially declined to invite Roth to become a fellow. Last week, feeling pressure both on campus and off, the dean changed his mind.

His hesitation was obvious: When it came to watching human rights, HRW was mainly watching Israel. Throughout Roth’s 30-year stewardship, with a globe replete with inhumanity, HRW was laser focused on one nation obsessively and disproportionately—the democratic state of Israel. The whole of the Middle East and Persian Gulf run amuck with theocratic thugs and authoritarian despots. Yet, HRW had eyes for Israel.

Indeed, most recently, HRW issued a report defaming Israel as an apartheid state. Not even the Palestinian Authority (PA), or the International Criminal Court, for that matter, ever dared cross this racially-charged Rubicon. A nation tagged as an apartheid state is quite possibly the highest order of mortal sin.

But it is ludicrous as applied to Israel. Jews and Arabs within Israel are not kept “apart” from one another: they ride the same public transports, eat in the same restaurants, attend concerts, enjoy identical civil rights. Arabs are elected to Israel’s parliament, serve in the governing coalition, are appointed as justices to the Supreme Court. An Ethiopian was crowned Ms. Israel.

Was any of that even remotely possible in South Africa during Apartheid?

Meanwhile, Hamas is repeatedly mentioned in HRW’s report as a political party, but never once as a terrorist organization. Yet, the PA sanctioning bounties on the heads of Jews, or Palestinian leaders rejecting five prior offers of statehood– neither made it onto the pages of HRW’s report.

And since apartheid is, chiefly, about keeping people separate from one another, HRW should have discussed how a Palestinian state will most certainly pursue apartheid policies of its own. The PA has made it clear that Jews will never be allowed to live in a Palestinian state. Indeed, it is presently illegal for Arabs to sell land to Jews. No such restriction, however, applies to Arabs who represent 20% of Israel’s population and whose property rights are unencumbered.

If Ken Roth was responsible for such an epic libel and historical distortion, then just maybe he doesn’t belong anywhere near a university, most especially Harvard.

If Ken Roth was responsible for such an epic libel and historical distortion, then just maybe he doesn’t belong anywhere near a university, most especially Harvard. After all, colleges are supposedly dedicated to objective truth, intellectual inquiry, and moral constancy. Given the woke war that has been waged on the campus green for some time now, aren’t there already enough Israel haters spreading propaganda and poisoning minds?

What about academic freedom, which ultimately guided the decision to welcome Roth to the Kennedy School? That’s all well and good on a two-way street. But academic freedom when it comes to Israel offers freedom in one direction alone: the freedom to deny its legitimacy. Viewpoint diversity about Israel, or on any number of topics on campus these days, is nonexistent.

No college in America has any plans to adopt the new definition of antisemitism proposed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, and embraced by over 30 countries, which updates antisemitic invective to include: depriving Jews of their right to self-determination, referring to Israel as a racist endeavor or comparing Israelis to Nazis, and blaming Jews for Israel’s policies.

Evidently, the joys of campus life, and the freedoms of the academy, would be shattered if professors and students were obliged to refrain from such antisemitic rhetoric.

Ironically, it has often been stated that Roth, the Israel basher, also has Jewish blood. In fact, his father fled Nazi Germany. It’s not the first time that Israel’s enemies have trotted out their list of Jews who have discovered the career benefits of betrayal, and who have completely abandoned moral clarity and an allegiance to their people. Jewish history is littered with fellow travelers in self-hatred who would do anything to become a fellow at Harvard.

In the case of Roth, however, it is worth remembering that the organization that he once led was begun by Jews (no surprise there), and that its founder, Robert Bernstein, distanced himself from, and openly criticized, the direction Roth had taken HWR in the Middle East.

It’s time for universities to start recruiting, and handing out fellowships, to the Bernsteins of the world, too.

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