Alumni, students condemn Harvard Kennedy School’s denial of fellowship to former HRW chief Kenneth Roth

Former Human Rights Watch head Kenneth Roth was initially was offered a position at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. The offer was the withdrawn, reportedly due to the HRW’s “anti-Israel bias” and his social media posts critical of Israel

January 12, 2023 by Peoples Dispatch
Kenneth Roth denied Harvard fellowship
Kenneth Roth. (Photo: QNN)

Hundreds of Harvard university alumni and affiliates have called for the resignation of Douglas Elmendorf, dean of the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS), over his denial of fellowship to former Human Rights Watch head Kenneth Roth for being critical of Israel’s oppressive policies in the occupied Palestinian territories. 

An open letter signed by more than 360 affiliates and co-sponsored by 19 student organizations as of Tuesday night has demanded Elmendorf’s resignation. This is in addition to 40 members of the Palestinian Alumni Committee issuing a separate statement demanding the same.    

The open letter issued by the affiliates claims that Elmendorf’s denial of fellowship to Roth is an “act of censorship and a threat to free expression and academic freedom,” the Harvard Crimson reported.   

After retiring as the head of HRW in April last year, Roth was offered a position at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the HKS. According to a report in The Nation, Elmendorf told Kathryn Sikkink, a professor of human rights policy at HKS, that Roth’s appointment was being withdrawn due to the HRW’s “anti-Israel bias” and his social media posts critical of Israel.  

Speaking to the Middle East Eye, Roth said that his position on the actions of Israel will not change despite the controversy, but he was worried that “younger academics who are watching this sorry episode are taking away the lesson that if you criticize Israel, you can be canceled, your career can be stymied.”

The Palestinian Alumni Collective statement said that Elmendorf’s decision was “profoundly wrong and demonstrates his hostility to academic freedom and honest human rights discourse.” The collective demanded his resignation and claimed that they have collectively experienced HKS’ discrimination against Palestinians and support for “Israeli state-sponsored violence and apartheid.”

The statement also alleged that Elmendorf as a dean had hosted Israelis who are accused of war crimes against Palestinians, “including the crime of apartheid.”  

Israel and pro-Israel academics have been targeting human rights activists and UN officials who have taken a public stand against the occupation of Palestine and the Israeli violations of human rights in the occupied territories by calling them “biased” or “anti-Semites.”  

Last month, Israel targeted Francesca Albanese, UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories, calling her an “anti-Semite” and quoting her decades-old social media posts. Israel also denied her entry into the occupied territories, preventing her from executing her UN mandate. The attacks against her became so vicious that the Palestinian Authority issued a formal statement criticizing them. 

In November, Israel accused Navi Pillay, head of the UN commission probing its alleged war crimes against Palestinians, of being an “anti-Semite,” and refused to cooperate with the probe mandated by the UNHRC following the 2021 bombing of Gaza. 

Israel has also accused Amnesty International of being anti-Semitic after its report last year accused Israel of following apartheid policies in the occupied territories.