Perhaps the single most important lesson I took from a Harvard education in the early 1980s came at the end of a course entitled, “A Literature of Social Observation and Moral Reflection” taught by renowned child psychiatrist and Pulitzer Prize winner Dr Robert Coles, beloved by students and admired by faculty for almost half a century. Recalling the Harvard graduation speech by the great American writer Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1838, Coles urged us always to understand the difference between our character and our intellect, particularly in the “everydayness” of our personal and academic conduct.

It seems that these moral lessons that Coles, Emerson and other people of letters urged us to recall may have been lost at Harvard recently, hopefully only temporarily.

The upcoming symposium, “The One- State Conference: Israel/Palestine and the One-State Solution,” due to convene at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government on March 3 and 4 2012, transforms Harvard’s longstanding tradition of free and fair academic debate into anti- Semitic theater. Under the guise of free academic expression, the One-State Conference advances the notion that Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people should be dismantled and replaced by a state that would be flooded with and governed by Palestinian Arabs and in which Jews would once again live as an insecure minority in their own land.

The conference’s cast of nearly 20 prominent speakers underscores the point. It brings together a “dream team” of well-initialed academics who share an antipathy to the existence of the Jewish state.

Keynote presenters include Ali Abunimah, author of the Israel-bashing online “Electronic Intifada” and an enthusiastic Hamas supporter who, as some may remember, publicly branded former prime minister Ehud Olmert as a murderer guilty of war crimes and prevented him from speaking at a 2009 University of Chicago forum.

Other speakers include the virulently anti-Israel academic Ilan Pappé, an Israeli and a long-time public apologist for Palestinian terror, who somehow was underwritten as a guest professor of Middle East history at Harvard.

The conference also features Dianna Buttu, former legal advisor for the PLO and another Hamas supporter who, as Middle East scholar Richard Cravatts noted recently, “denied that thousands of Hamas rockets fired from Gaza into Israel actually had warheads on them, unlike Israeli weaponry.”

The “good” news is that there may be at least one advocate of a two-state solution. Keynote speaker Steven Walt, Harvard professor and co-author of the now infamous tome The Israel Lobby, which accused American Jews of dual loyalty and branded them with the sinister “Israel firsters” label, is slated to be the conference’s primary advocate of the two-state solution.

The conference’s primary agenda is not to consider serious alternatives to advance Middle East peace, but to discuss the prospects for Israel’s dissolution. That’s what the “one-state solution” has meant since PLO leaders such as Nayef Hawatmeh and others mentioned it as early as the 1960s as part of a political platform of an overall strategy to destroy the Jewish state. Since then, Palestinian intellectuals and some academics in the West have adopted the idea, which, when camouflaged under the academic cover of important institutions like Harvard, is made to seem innocent enough as a viable option, particularly in the more recent context of Palestinian-Israeli diplomatic failure to reach a peace accord.

This is why Emerson’s call for moral clarity is essential. A conference such as this, whose thesis casts doubt on Israel’s existence as the nation state of the Jewish people and denies the Jewish people’s right to self-determination, as affirmed in international law, renders this gathering and its accompanying proposition blatantly anti-Semitic in line with the US State Department’s own definition.

Former Harvard President Larry Summers expressed similar concerns several years ago when he responded to calls at Harvard for boycott and divestment from Israel when it was forced to defend its citizens from Hamas rocket terror, noting that, “Profoundly anti-Israel views are increasingly finding support in progressive intellectual communities... Serious and thoughtful people are advocating and taking actions that are anti-Semitic in their effect, if not their intent.” Regretfully, it seems the case here is one of intent, not merely effect.

It is true that several weeks after the conference’s announcement, which featured the endorsement of Harvard and its Kennedy School, the school’s dean, David Ellwood, distanced the university from the event with a disclaimer on the One-State Conference website, noting that the conference is the idea and responsibility of the students alone.

However, at the time of this writing, the Kennedy School logo still appeared prominently on the Conference’s website, the university was still providing funding and the event was still scheduled to take place at the Kennedy School.

This begs a larger issue of “loco parentis” or, in other words, Harvard’s legal and moral responsibility in place of parents for these same students, many of whom are between 18 and 21 years old. Harvard bears ultimate responsibility for this event, including the duty of care for Harvard’s Jewish student community who would be further exposed to hate speech as a result of this conference, and cannot facilely dismiss it as the “fault of the children.”

It carefully vets its undergraduate student body – only eight percent of applicants are accepted as undergrads – and the university boasts ownership and identity as an overall Harvard community under the veritas (truth) banner that has defined the university since its founding in 1636.

The crisis has not gone unnoticed or unaddressed by Harvard alumni. An international petition circulated among Harvard supporters and alumni has garnered thousands of signatures, with major donors now considering withholding financial support from the university.

The implications of the “One-State Conference: Israel/Palestine and the One- State Solution” at Harvard are far reaching. Conference organizers have already won a victory by holding the symposium at the university without suffering a formal university disavowal. Despite its limited protestations, Harvard’s sanction of this event provides the moral and academic underpinnings for the so-called “One-State Solution” conference to be held as mainstream academic event at universities worldwide. This would be a colossal failure of moral conduct and responsibility that Emerson warned Harvard about nearly 200 years ago.

The writer is the Secretary General of the World Jewish Congress.

Please LIKE our Facebook page - it makes us stronger