Following the controversy this summer over the closure of Yale’s Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism, another Ivy League school is taking heat as questions have recently been raised about the agenda of Harvard University’s Middle Eastern Studies’ Outreach Center. On it’s website, the Center – which promotes its program in the Boston area and provides curricular materials to public and private schools – says its mission is to promote “a critical understanding of the diversity of the Middle East region.” But according to a recent report, the record of its director and its programming reveal a pattern of promoting a one-sided narrative rather than presenting diverse viewpoints.
The detailed report, published by the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) highlights the Center’s Director Paul Beran’s longtime activism in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. In 2004 it says, he participated in the Presbyterian Church’s BDS campaign and claimed that he formed an alliance with an extreme anti-Israel group in order to counter criticism from “Zionists and their ilk.” The report details how following the failure of a similar BDS petition in Somerville, MA, Beran accused the town mayor, pension-fund manager and elected state representatives who voted against it of being “recruited by pro-Israel groups” and urged divestment activists to counter “Zionist backlash.”
The report mentions that in 2007 Beran protested the enrollment of former Israeli Chief of Staff Dan Halutz into a Harvard Business School course, calling him “a noted war criminal,” although the General was never tried or found guilty of any war crimes.
Reached on the phone by the Algemeiner, Beran declined to comment.
The report finds that the Center’s speakers, recommended resources and course syllabi (some of which are available online) similarly reflect a one-sided focus. Recommended readings heavily favor anti-Zionist writings, including works by deceased professor Edward Said, a Palestinian advocate, and former Israeli professor Ilan Pappé, the driving force behind academic boycotts of Israel. (CAMERA points out that Pappé’s scholarship is now under critical scrutiny as he is charged with fabricating a quote that alleges to show how Israel planned to expel Arabs in an article published in the Journal of Palestine Studies and in his 2006 book, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. He was also harshly criticized for promoting a graduate thesis centered on a bogus claim of an Israeli massacre of Palestinians that was formally recanted in a libel case). Also mentioned in the report is the Center’s recommendation of the propaganda film, Occupation 101, featuring such well-known defamers of Israel as Noam Chomsky and Richard Falk.
One slide presentation on the Center’s Web site was found to steer teachers to writings by activists of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) a group characterized by the ADL as one of the nation’s leading anti-Israel organizations. Another, entitled “Teaching Sense Making Around Israel/Palestine”, was shown to reduce the Arab-Israeli conflict to a simple battle over boundaries while rejecting discussion of Palestinian terrorism and the conflict’s religious dimension as an “unsophisticated” approach.
The report also points to the Center’s characterization of Israel as the regional “hegemon,” a seemingly misleading use of the term, as Muslim and Arab populations outnumber the Jewish state by 400 million to 8 million and possess land area a thousand times greater. It similarly criticizes as absurd the Center’s contention that U.S. policy aspires to “maintain Israel as a hegemon.”
Daniel Pipes, a former professor at the center, who now heads the Middle East Forum said, “Since the time I was there about thirty years ago, the Harvard Center for Middle Eastern Studies has become increasingly biased and increasingly dogmatic and Paul (Beran) is a symptom of that change.”
At least one Harvard alumnus has also expressed disappointment with the center’s stance. “It’s an embarrassment and a shame,” said Ira Stoll former Managing Editor of the New York Sun and a 1994 graduate of Harvard college. He said the only consolation, as an alumnus, is that Harvard also has a strong representation of pro-Israel faculty members such as Alan Dershowitz, Ruth Wisse, and Lawrence Summers.
At the time of publication, Harvard University’s Deputy Director of Communications Jeff Neal, had not responded to the Algemeiner’s request for comment.