Kenneth Roth, who headed Human Rights Watch for 29 years, announced in April he would be stepping down, and soon afterwards he received a preliminary offer of a Senior Fellowship from the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, which is part of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. Such appointments, however, are not official until approved by the Dean of the Kennedy School, and in this case Dean Douglas Elmendorf did not approve. According to Roth and his defenders this was because of his disparagement of Israel, and HRW’s as well, but so far there has been no confirmation of this from Dean Elmendorf or Harvard University.
Not surprisingly, criticism of the move has been swift, with reliably hard left outlets like the Nation and The Guardian leading the howls of outrage. Roth himself has tweeted about the affair, claiming that no one has pointed out any facts that HRW got wrong:
The critics of @HRW‘s reporting on Israeli repression of Palestinians don’t say we got any facts wrong, just that we focused too much on Israel, despite it being only one of 100 countries that Human Rights Watch regularly works on. They want no reporting. https://t.co/fJjw6z0isq
— Kenneth Roth (@KenRoth) January 8, 2023
Roth echoed this claim in the Guardian article:
The irony is that when we issued the report, the Israeli government was at a loss to find anything wrong with it. They fell back on the usual arguments of, ‘you must be antisemitic’. I take that as a … victory because if all they can do is name call, they have nothing substantive to say …
It is simply breathtaking that Roth could make such a claim – CAMERA’s responses to HRW’s charges constitute page after page of detailed factual refutations of the organization’s and Roth’s recklessly false allegations.
Other organizations and the Israeli government have also cited material errors in HRW’s and Roth’s claims.
Here’s one instructive example, regarding HRW’s false charge that Israel has not allowed Palestinian access to water to increase since 1995. I sent Roth an email proving the charge is baseless, citing statistics from the Palestinian Authority itself (click for full size):
HRW offered only a boilerplate response from a communications staffer, assuring us that if the allegation was erroneous HRW would correct it. No such correction was forthcoming, and a follow up email to Roth went unanswered.
Just on the basis of this episode alone, how could Roth claim that no one has questioned HRW’s facts?
Harvard’s motto is “Veritas,” or truth, and Roth reacts to truth like a vampire reacts to sunlight. Dean Elmendorf made the right call.
Update on 1/12: This article has been edited to clarify that as of this date neither Dean Elmendorf nor Harvard University has stated why Roth’s appointment was turned down.