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January 24, 2023 12:02 pm

Jewish Donors Didn’t Influence Harvard’s Kenneth Roth Decision

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avatar by Adam Levick


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

Last week, we posted about two Guardian articles by Chris McGreal that were published earlier in the month reporting about the decision by Doug Elmendorf, Dean of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, to deny a fellowship to former Human Rights Watch (HRW) director Ken Roth.

The articles — as well as a report in the far-left magazine The Nation, which they were based on — strongly suggested, without evidence, that Jewish pro-Israel donors to the Kennedy School were to blame for Roth not being offered the position. The claim was that Roth was being unfairly denied the position due to his group’s “criticism of Israel,” and that, in Roth’s words, he was the victim of “donor driven censorship.”

As ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt argued, the piece in The Nation, in particular, had strongly antisemitic undertones.

Though, as we wrote in our post, it was unclear if Jewish, pro-Israel donors were the ones who convinced Elmendorf to nix the fellowship, we also stressed that Roth hasn’t been merely “critical of Israel,” but has displayed a malign obsession with the Jewish state. We also documented that Roth has evoked antisemitic tropes in several tweets over the years.

Late last week, Elmendorf, responding to pressure over the decision, reversed course and extended the offer to Roth, which he accepted.

The Guardian’s McGreal then published a follow-up (“Harvard reverses decision on role for Israel critic after outcry,” Jan. 19), which included this:

Roth had accused Elmendorf of withdrawing the fellowship under pressure, direct or implied, from donors who are strong supporters of Israel. The dean denied it.

“Donors do not affect our consideration of academic matters,” he said in his statement. “My decision was also not made to limit debate at the Kennedy School about human rights in any country.” [emphasis added]

Indeed, The Chronicle of Higher Education previously reported that Elmendorf told colleagues that his original decision was based on conversations he had with people who mattered to him. Who, specifically, asked Ken Roth, was Elmendorf referring to?

Well, Judea Pearl, whose son Daniel, a journalist for the Wall Street Journal, was kidnapped and beheaded by Islamic terrorists in Pakistan over 20 years ago, tweeted this on Jan. 19:

In addition to being an academic who has received awards for his work on artificial intelligence, the widely respected Pearl is president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, which works to continue his son’s life-work of East-West understanding, and is a co-recipient of the 2006 Purpose Prize for launching the Daniel Pearl Dialogue for Muslim-Jewish understanding.

So, contrary to the smears peddled about the row, it wasn’t wealthy Jewish donors who pressured Dean Elmendorf — a fact alluded to but ultimately buried due to the Guardian’s insistence on never learning any lessons about the profound dangers of antisemitic dog whistles.

Adam Levick serves as co-editor of CAMERA UK – an affiliate of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA), where a version of this article first appeared.

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