Harvard Can’t Duck Ties to One-State Conference

Harvard seeks to quell the growing scandal surrounding its high-profile hosting of the One State Conference: Israel/Palestine and the One State Solution, whose aim is the dissolution of the Jewish state. The university claims the event is student-inspired and organized, and not Harvard’s responsibility. In the meantime, two erstwhile sponsors have removed their logos from the event — The Weatherhead Center and the Carr Center for Human Rights. The Kennedy School logo remains; however, a disclaimer has been added to the conference Web site, reading:
“The One-State Conference is run solely by the student organizers, and students alone are responsible for all aspects of the program, including content and speakers, as with all student-run events. It does not represent the views of the Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University, or any Harvard school or center.”
As in the case of the BDS conference at the University of Pennsylvania in early February, when the administration there claimed it had to allow the event — including providing free space — because a legally constituted student group wanted it, the question has to be asked: Are Ivy League administrators selected for their ability to muster totally disingenuous, ludicrous defenses of university policy? Do Harvard’s poobahs truly expect the public to believe the university would allow “student organizers” to run a campus gay-bashing conference, or KKK convocation? Clearly, Harvard accords special status to hate-speech directed against the Jewish state, whose annihilation can be promoted in one-sided panels and biased keynote speeches.
But there is another dimension to the disingenuosness of Harvard’s disavowals. The conference is not just a student affair. In many ways it represents the views of influential faculty and others. It grows out of fertile anti-Israel Harvard ground and it includes prominent faculty as speakers. The Kennedy School of Government, with its sharply skewed Middle East Initiative program; the university’s virulently anti-Israel Center for Middle Eastern Studies and affiliated Outreach Center; the various anti-Israel programs and personalities at the Weatherhead Center, at the Carr Center for Human Rights and in other departments — all have in recent years promoted bigoted attacks against the Jewish state. A conference advocating the dissolution of Israel in this environment is a logical continuation of classroom teaching, public lectures, educational “outreach” and extreme anti-Israel activism by numerous professors and other staff.
Funding for the event, it should be noted, is provided by Harvard’s Provost and the Weatherhead Institute. And locating the conference in the prestigious Kennedy School Forum lends still greater prominence to the gathering.
Among Harvard faculty and affiliate staff in the conference line-up are the following:
  • Stephen Walt is a former academic dean at the Kennedy School and is currently a Professor of International Affairs there. He’s part of the Kennedy School’s Middle East Initiative and is also author of the ferociously anti-Israel and factually shoddy, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. Walt writes a blog for Foreign Policy that regularly attacks Israel and its supporters.
  • Duncan Kennedy is a radical professor of law at Harvard Law School who has leveled extreme, factually inaccurate charges against Israel. He teaches a course heavily reliant on fringe, anti-Israel voices, some of whom, such as Illan Pappe, are also appearing at the conference. Kennedy has called for boycott and divestment from Israel.
  • Diana Buttu, a Fellow at Harvard’s Middle East Initiative, and former legal advisor to the Palestinian negotiating team, is the host of a seven-part lecture series underway at Harvard. She is also an organizer of the One-State Conference.
  • Timothy McCarthy is a lecturer at the Carr Center at the Kennedy School and a member of the Board of Advisors of Freedom Forward, a pro-Palestinian, activist group.
  • Naor Ben-Yahoyada is a Visiting Lecturer and Assistant Director of Undergraduate Studies in Harvard’s Anthropology Department, Director of Undergraduate Programs at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, and a Visiting Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies. In 2007 he was part of a campaign that distributed wanted posters for Israel’s Chief of Staff, Dan Halutz, calling him a war criminal and in 2009 he spoke at an Israel Apartheid Week event in Rhode Island.

Kennedy School Dean David Ellwood has reiterated the school’s claim of institutional innocence in a February 24 release. He could only say Harvard does not “endorse or support” the conference goals. Evidently deploring, denouncing or condemning a conference that calls for the destruction of the Jewish state would be sticking his neck out, and perhaps offending too many faculty members. And, ultimately, the public will see through the absurdity that a conference held in a prestigious Harvard venue, underwritten by Harvard funds, organized by Harvard “Fellows” and featuring Harvard faculty is not a Harvard event!
 Kennedy School Logo
February 24, 2012


We have received a number of inquiries concerning the “One-State Conference” organized by a group of students. The students involved are members of recognized student organizations at the Harvard Kennedy School and other Harvard schools. Their stated goal has been “to bring students from across Harvard University together to enrich academic discussions about possible solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The aim is to explore the merits of a one-state solution…”

Let me emphasize that Harvard University and the Harvard Kennedy School in no way endorse or support the apparent position of the student organizers or any participants. We would never take a position on specific policy solutions to achieving peace in this region, and certainly would not endorse any policy that some argue could lead to the elimination of the Jewish State of Israel.

Academic freedom is a central value of Harvard University and the Harvard Kennedy School. We work hard to impart the values of open expression to our students. The goal of academic freedom is to provide the free and open exchange of ideas, and the hope and expectation is that a wide range of diverse viewpoints will be represented and explored. It rests on a belief that the power of open and often strongly competing speech is the best antidote to tyranny. We also encourage students to exercise these freedoms fully and responsibly.

I am deeply disappointed to see that the list of speakers for this student conference is so one-sided. While not all speakers support the so called “one-state solution,” I would certainly have expected to see a much broader debate on a topic that is so contentious. Without the balance of divergent views that characterize the most enriching discussions, the credibility and intellectual value of any event is open to question. All our students have a right to take any position they choose. And we do not control whom students invite to their conferences. But it is in intensive give and take that insights can best emerge, particularly around highly controversial issues.

I am particularly concerned that many of the initial conference materials and the comments of some outsiders may have given the false impression that the University supports the agenda or the position of the conference organizers. Use of the University’s facilities and modest financial support for cross-school, student-led conferences in no way constitutes endorsement of any policy agenda, and we are actively working to ensure that this misimpression of institutional endorsement is corrected.

I want to emphasize once again that Harvard University and Harvard Kennedy School do not support the policy positions of the conference organizers or speakers. And we hope the University will always be a place where academic freedom ensures that the free exchange of ideas and reasoned debate is a precious right.

A version of this column first appeared at The Times of Israel.

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