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Harvard reportedly offering fellowship to ex-Human Rights Watch head who criticized Israel


In a reversal of an earlier decision, the Harvard Kennedy School will offer a fellowship after all to Ken Roth, the retired head of Human Rights Watch who has criticized Israel in the past.

The New York Times reported Thursday that the school’s dean, Douglas Elmendorf, sent an email to the Kennedy School community calling his original decision to deny Roth the fellowship an “error.”

In a Jan. 10 article in The Guardian, Roth had accused Elmendorf of vetoing the fellowship “because of my criticism of Israel. As best we can tell, donor reaction was his concern.” 

Harvard students, faculty and alumni had complained that the decision was a violation of academic freedom and reflected the undue influence of donors. 

Elmendorf disputed that. “Donors do not affect our consideration of academic matters,” The Times quoted him as saying. “My decision was also not made to limit debate at the Kennedy School about human rights in any country.” Instead, he said his original decision to deny Roth the one-year fellowship at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy was “based on my evaluation of his potential contributions to the school.”

The reversal may be a moot point. Roth, who is Jewish and whose father fled Nazi Germany, in the meantime took a fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania, The Times said.

In an op-ed in the Forward, Dany Bahar, an Israeli Harvard alumnus, decried Elmendorf’s original decision. Bahar said that while he rejects much of Roth’s views on Israel, “engaging with critics of Israel is our responsibility, and attempting to cancel them only reinforces the view that Israel is not an open society.” He added that Roth “would have been a tremendous asset to Harvard’s Jewish and Israeli students.” 

There was no immediate response from Roth or the Kennedy School to the Forward’s requests for comment made via email and Twitter.

The post Harvard reportedly offering fellowship to ex-Human Rights Watch head who criticized Israel appeared first on The Forward.