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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.