Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Harvard under fire over Israel

Student-run conference eyes one-state solution

By Leah Burrows

A controversy has arisen over a student-organized conference at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government focused on a one-state solution to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. Pro-Israel groups and the Kennedy School dean have criticized the conference agenda for lacking balance.

The conference’s purpose is to consider the feasibility of a single state that could encompass Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, according to organizers. It would result in the end of Israel as a Jewish state and, depending on its borders, eventually leave Jews in the minority.

The One State Conference, which is scheduled for March 3 and 4, is co-sponsored primarily by graduate-student groups, including Justice for Palestine, the Palestine Caucus and the Association for Justice in the Middle East. Scheduled speakers include Stephen Walt, co-author of the controversial book, “The Israel Lobby”; llan Pappé, an Israeli historian who has accused his nation of ethnic cleansing; and Diana Buttu, a former spokesperson for the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

“This is a who’s who of the anti- Israel crowd,” said Rob Leikind, director of the American Jewish Committee Boston chapter. “If the organizers had invited people from a range of points of view to talk about the merits of the one-state solution, that is one thing. But there is a common thread among those present in that they have all been strong opponents of Israel, and they think that Israel should not exist in the way it does.”

Combined Jewish Philanthropies, CAMERA, Harvard Students for Israel and the Israeli Consulate to New England have also raised concerns about the conference.

In response, David Ellwood, dean of the Kennedy School, released a statement distancing the university from the conference.

“I want to emphasize once again that Harvard University and the Harvard Kennedy School in no way endorses or supports the apparent position of these student organizers or any participants they include. We hope that the final shape of the conference will be significantly more balanced,” the statement read.

Ahmed Moor, a graduate student at the Kennedy School who has been planning the event for the past year, rejected the notion that the conference should include two-state supporters.

“If I was holding a two-state conference, I wouldn’t be asked to invite people who are Kahanists, for instance, or Greater Israel types or one-staters for that matter,” Moor said. “One thing we are allowed to do as individuals, as groups of people, is circumscribe the range of the conversations we choose to have. And that’s what we’ve done here. We want to talk about one state.”

Moor said he did not expect conference participants to whitewash the challenges of the onestate solution. Several of the speakers, including Walt, do not view a one-state solution as viable, Moor said.

“In putting forth any kind of positive political program on the horizon, I think it’s important to grapple with the realities of the situation,” he said.

The university said that the event has received support from “modest” funds set aside for student conferences. Beyond that, neither Harvard nor Moor would detail other sources of funding.

“Students typically come forward with general ideas in many circumstances long before they have invited specific people or finalized a program, and generally administrators try to be supportive of student ideas for events that they are planning,” said Melodie Jackson, associate dean for communications at the Kennedy School.

Jackson noted that the conference was one of several studentorganized events at the Kennedy School this semester. Others include the Jewish Caucus Seminar Series, and The Israel Conference scheduled for April, organized by Israeli students from around the university.

Harvard Students for Israel, an undergraduate group, said it planned to write letters and op-eds in student publications against the one-state conference. However, the group said it had no plans to protest at the event.

“We want to make it clear that [the one-state solution] is a minority opinion,” said Joshua Lipson, co-president of Harvard Students for Israel. “[The conference] is presenting the one-state solution as something mainstream, when what we are seeing is something that is genuinely radical. Whether we are dovish or hawkish, we think is pretty radical to think that a sovereign state should be dismantled without discussing why it should not.”

Lipson and many of the conferences critics, emphasized that the student groups had every right to discuss a one-state solution, but expressed hope they would include a diversity of viewpoints.

“We all understand and respect academic freedom, but this is really not doing good to anyone,” said Shai Bazak, consul general of Israel to New England. “To put an end to the Jewish homeland and the Jewish people in the state of Israel, it’s something that no one with clear mind really endorses.”

For Moor, the one-state solution is an avenue for equal rights, not the destruction of the Jewish people – and that is worth a conversation, he said.

“It seems like there is a lot of pressure to abort the conversation perhaps before we’ve had a chance to engage with one another in good faith,” Moor said.

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