Former HRW Head Denied Harvard Fellowship Over His “Anti-Israel Bias”

January 5, 2023
Former United Nations Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth speaks at a press conference at UN headquarters on January 14, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Scott Heins/Getty Images)

Former Human Rights Watch (HRW) Executive Director Kenneth Roth was a denied a fellowship position at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government over his “anti-Israel bias.”

The Nation reported on January 5 that Roth was offered the position by Kennedy School Carr Center for Public Policy Executive Director Sushma Raman in May and Roth accepted it the following month. However, Kennedy School Dean Douglas Elmendorf overruled Raman’s decision in July, concluding that Roth’s tweets showed that he is biased against Israel. The Nation described the Carr Center as being “stunned” at Elmendorf’s decision; Raman argued to Elmendorf that Roth and HRW have treated Israel equally to other countries and the Palestinian territories, but Elmendorf was unmoved. Roth is now currently a visiting fellow at the University of Pennsylvania; he told The Nation that Elmendorf has “no backbone whatsoever.”

The Nation article pointed the finger at NGO Monitor Founder Gerald Steinberg for accusing Roth and HRW of being biased against Israel, particularly in regards to the 2021 HRW report claiming that Israel was engaging in apartheid against the Palestinians; Roth told The Nation that NGO Monitor is “profoundly biased” because the organization objects to any criticism of Israel. Roth added that he is Jewish and became involved in human rights issues after hearing about his father’s stories of escaping Nazi Germany in 1938. The Nation article also suggested that Elmendorf’s decision was reflective of the “fundamental reality” that “the US national security community and its close ally Israel” have a “dominant presence” at the school. The school told The Nation that they “do not discuss our deliberations about individuals who may be under consideration” for such positions.

Following the article’s publication, Roth tweeted: “So much for academic freedom at Harvard’s @Kennedy_School: 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 @CarrCenter offered me.”

In response to The Nation article, Steinberg tweeted out his 2021 article in the Israel Affairs journal highlighting HRW’s “anti-Israel agenda” as well as a screenshot from a 2009 New York Times op-ed from HRW Founder Robert Bernstein criticizing Roth and HRW for giving fodder to those who portray Israel as a “pariah state.” The Nation article does acknowledge the Bernstein criticism and noted that HRW responded to Bernstein by claiming “that since 2000 it had 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.”

Human rights lawyer Arsenn Ostrovsky, who heads The International Legal Forum, lauded Elmendorf in a tweet and told Roth: “You don’t deserve a fellowship, 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!”

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