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January 19, 2023 10:57 am
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In Reversal, Harvard University Offers Position to Israel Critic Kenneth Roth

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avatar by Algemeiner Staff

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, gestures during an interview with Reuters in Geneva, Switzerland, January 12, 2021. Picture taken January 12, 2021. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

In a dramatic reversal after weeks of controversy, Harvard University has offered a position to Israel critic Kenneth Roth at its Kennedy School of Government, according to an email sent Thursday morning by the school’s dean.

“In the case of Mr. Roth, I now believe that I made an error in my decision not to appoint him as a Fellow at our Carr Center for Human Rights,” wrote Dean Douglas Elmendorf in an email sent to the Kennedy School community and shared with The Algemeiner.

According to a report in The Nation magazine, Elmendorf had vetoed a proposal last summer by the school’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy to offer Roth a one-year fellowship allegedly due to his anti-Israel views. Media outlets like the Associated PressMSNBC, and The Guardian  picked up on the story.

But on Thursday, Elmendorf — citing Roth’s “deep experience in a wide range of human rights issues” — said that he was now extending an offer to Roth to work as a Fellow at the Carr Center.

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“I am sorry that the decision inadvertently cast doubt on the mission of the School and our commitment to open debate in ways I had not intended and do not believe to be true,” Elmendorf added.

In recent weeks Roth embarked on a media campaign against Harvard and Elmendorf, sending out some 30 tweets on the subject. He alleged that the school had made its decision due to improper pro-Israel donor influence “undermining intellectual independence,” according to an interview Roth gave to The New York Times.

Elmendorf, however, disputed that characterization in his email.

“My decision on Mr. Roth last summer was based on my evaluation of his potential contributions to the School,” Elmendorf wrote. “In recent days I have spent a great deal of time consulting with faculty members, hearing their views, and discussing a path forward on this specific appointment and on broader issues around the appointment of Fellows at the Kennedy School.”

Israel advocacy groups quickly denounced Harvard’s decision Thursday afternoon.

“During 30 years as head of Human Rights Watch, Roth has consistently singled out Israel uniquely for demonization and delegitimization, which contributed to the rise in antisemitism and discrimination, including against Jewish students on university campuses,” NGO Monitor, an Israel-based nonprofit, said in a statement. “He has also solicited and accepted donations that reflect the antithesis of the moral principles that should serve as the foundation for universal human rights. We also note that Dean Elmendorf rejected Roth’s attempts to portray his initial rejection as the result of a nefarious Jewish conspiracy, further adding to his record of antisemitism. While Roth and his allies have succeeded in forcing this outcome, the stains on his record will not disappear.”

Roth, who served as executive director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) between 1993 and 2022, has been a vociferous critic of Israel. Last year the organization launched a report accusing Israel of “apartheid.”

The 213-page report, which was slammed by US and Israeli officials as well as legal academics, contained hundreds of factual errors as well as falsified quotes, according to HonestReporting, a media analysis nonprofit.

HRW founder Robert Bernstein publicly denounced the NGO’s work in the Middle East, writing in 2009 that “Human Rights Watch has lost critical perspective on a conflict in which Israel has been repeatedly attacked by Hamas and Hezbollah.”

In 2021, Roth was accused of justifying antisemitism following the publication of a report that showed there had been a spike in anti-Jewish incidents in the UK during the May 2021 conflict.

In a tweet that was later deleted, Roth wrote:

Antisemitism is always wrong, and it long preceded the creation of Israel, but the surge in UK antisemitic incidents during the recent Gaza conflict gives the lie to those who pretend that the Israeli government’s conduct doesn’t affect antisemitism.

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