December 10, 2018

Opinion: Harvard, Santorum and the one-state solution

This coming weekend, Harvard’s Kennedy School will host a ” target=”_hplink”>Israel Apartheid Week?  Its website says that it’s a student conference, “run solely by the student organizers, and students alone are responsible for all aspects of the program,” and that it “does not represent the views of the Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University, or any Harvard school or center.”  The sponsoring student groups are Justice for Palestine, the Palestine Caucus, the Arab Caucus, the Progressive Caucus and the Association for Justice in the Middle East.

The disclaimer on the website came at the ” target=”_hplink”>said Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the ADL, won’t fix this.  It’s not enough for Harvard to say – as Ellwood did, in response to a ” target=”_hplink”>He does believe in a one-state solution, though not the kind the conference organizers have in mind.  That one state is Israel.  “All the people who live in the West Bank,” ” target=”_hplink”>believes that universities are secular “indoctrination mills” where “62 percent of kids who go into college with a faith commitment leave without it.”  He says that’s why President Obama wants more kids to go to college – to convert them to moral relativism. 

It’s not just Santorum.  From Newt Gingrich to Bill O’Reilly, the right says that elite universities are harming America because they substitute doubt for faith.  Pluralism is Satan’s game.  Considering a “balance of divergent views” – Harvard’s mission, and the creed of liberalism – is an assault on moral certainty.  (The reason that the “balanced” in Fox News’s slogan doesn’t also harm America must be that it’s just a slogan, not an epistemology.)

Elite, like liberal, was once a quality to aspire to.  You’d think that conservatives would welcome the enforcement of standards like intellectual excellence.  But it’s clear why they don’t.  What elites call excellence entails an open-mindedness that questions everything; free inquiry doesn’t put yellow tape around any kind of orthodoxy or assumption.

If that were categorically true, then a balance of divergent views on the comparative intellectual capacity of various racial groups would be welcome on campus, because both sides could freely make their cases.  Instead, it’s not, because there aren’t “both sides.”  Sez who?  Well, sez science, a method of understanding the world that elite universities aren’t embarrassed to privilege.  An exploration of the pros and cons of creationism is similarly beyond the academic pale, as is debating the existence of the holocaust, whose reality has been established by the fact-checking protocols that reasonable people use, which constitute a kind of science.

Whether Israelis and Palestinians could share a liberal democratic state that would still be a national homeland for the Jewish people: that’s a political question, not a scientific one.  I have a view about it (it can’t), which at least on that point puts me on the same side as the ADL.  I’m also dubious that the Harvard conference will present a balanced point of view.  After all, its stated goal is “to expand the range of academic debate” to include the one-state solution and “the challenges that stand in the way of its realization.”

But that agenda, with all due respect to the ADL, doesn’t make the topic taboo.  If Harvard were to cave on this, the Santorums win.  Universities can’t adjudicate political conflicts, any more than they can exempt their students from defending their beliefs.  The danger here isn’t delegitimizing the Jewish state.  The danger is undermining the democratic freedoms that Israel, the U.S. and American universities all rely on.

Marty Kaplan is the ” target=”_hplink”>USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.  Reach him at