Douglas Elmendorf, dean of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, announced Thursday that he was extending an offer of a fellowship to Kenneth Roth, former executive director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), after previously rejecting the proposal over concerns of anti-Israel bias from Roth and HRW, according to The New York Times.
Harvard’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy initially offered Roth a position in May 2022; however, Elmendorf denied the fellowship later that year due to concerns of “anti-Israel bias,” according to the Nation. On Thursday, Elmendorf reversed his decision to offer Roth a fellowship, calling it an “error,” according to the NYT.
Elmendorf’s initial decision was reportedly impacted by his concerns that HRW had an “anti-Israel bias,” according to the Nation. Roth, a Jew whose family was forced to flee Nazi Germany during World War II, said in a statement on Twitter that he was “thrilled” by the decision but wasn’t satisfied with the dean’s explanation.
“First, [Elmendorf] still has not said anything about the people ‘who matter to him’ whom he said were behind his original veto decision,” Roth noted. “Second, I remain worried about academic freedom.”
Roth seemed to be referring to accusations that Elmendorf had rejected the original proposal due to donor influence, according to the NYT, but Elmendorf pushed back on this in his Thursday announcement.
“Donors do not affect our consideration of academic matters,” Elmendorf stated. “My decision was also not made to limit debate at the Kennedy School about human rights in any country.”
Both Roth and HRW have come under fire from Jewish organizations for promoting the narrative that Israel is an “apartheid state,” and for tweets on Roth’s personal Twitter account, according to the NYT. In 2021, HRW released a report stating that many of Israel’s policies regarding the treatment of Palestinians met the standards of apartheid.
Omar Shakir, the author of the report and HRW’s Israel/Palestine director, recommended Israel “dismantle” systems that “privilege Jewish Israelis.”
Liora Rez, executive director of StopAntisemitism, told the Daily Caller News Foundation that she was “disgusted” by Harvard’s decision.
“Kenneth Roth and Human Rights Watch perpetuate falsities about the Jewish State of Israel creating a dangerous space for Jewish students on the Harvard campus which received a D grade in our 2022 report of Antisemitism on U.S. College & University Campuses,”Rez stated. “Students report that the administration doesn’t take their concerns about safety seriously and this appointment solidifies that concern.”
Roth told the DCNF that his critics were “hardly arbiters of bias.”
“My personal comments on Israel have all been consistent with the organization that I led,” Roth said. “The handful of groups that accuse HRW of ‘bias’ never ever criticize the Israeli government for its human rights violations and only attack people who do criticize Israeli human rights violations.”
One of Roth’s since-deleted tweets stated that the Israeli government’s actions during the Israel-Gaza conflict could be a factor in rising antisemitism in the United Kingdom, according to Forward. UN Watch, a non-governmental organization based in Geneva, Switzerland that monitors the United Nations, published a list of Roth’s concerning tweets regarding Israel in November 2019 and found that 70% of his tweets alleging illegal acts referred to Israel.
Many of those tweets were regarding Israel’s decision to not renew Shakir’s visa because he violated a 2017 law by supporting the BDS movement, according to the NGO Monitor. Roth argued that neither HRW nor Shakir had ever supported the BDS movement, though Shakir, during his time with the Center for Constitutional Rights, signed a letter that directly encouraged support for the Palestinian “BDS call” and accused Israel of “war crimes,” “apartheid” and “ethnic cleansing.”
Despite this, Roth explained to the DCNF that Israel is evaluated by HRW with the same criteria as any other nation.
“Israel is one of 100 countries on whose human rights record Human Rights Watch regularly reports,” Roth noted. “Human Rights Watch uses the same careful, fact-based reporting, and applies the same international human rights and humanitarian law, as in those other countries.”
Elmendorf and Shakir did not respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.