Last week it was reported that Douglas Elmendorf, Dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School, decided not to award a prestigious fellowship to Kenneth Roth, the former director of the NGO Human Rights Watch.
A spokesman for the school explained that the decision was based on “an evaluation of the candidate’s potential contributions” to the school, but Roth quickly ran to sympathetic news outlets to spin his rejection (with no real proof) as a violation of his “academic freedom” under the assumption that it was all because of his well-documented anti-Israel bias.
This week, Roth could not help himself from doubling-down on some “speculation” he had seen that accused (again with zero evidence) shadowy “donors” of having influenced Elmendorf’s decision — a thinly veiled reference to the “Jewish money” bogeyman that antisemites the world over love to blame for their own misfortunes.
The sad reality is that two separate things can be true at the same exact time: Kenneth Roth has said many false and wildly antisemitic things, and Kenneth Roth also does not deserve a prestigious fellowship at Harvard because he is a poor academic — an ideologue, not an expert, who weaponized his discipline and who simply cannot be trusted to tell the truth. To the extent that his smears about Israel did have any effect on the decision to reject him, Dean Elmendorf should be roundly applauded for protecting his schools’ academic integrity.
First, despite his protestations, it is entirely understandable for people to accuse Kenneth Roth of antisemitism, especially in his attempts to demonize and delegitimize the Jewish State, and to hold it to a double standard not expected of any other democratic nation.
Roth’s pathological obsession with vilifying the Jewish State so debased Human Rights Watch that Robert Bernstein, its founder and longtime chairman emeritus, had to publicly condemn the organization multiple times for losing its way — and its credibility — under his leadership.
The sad fact is that Roth has a nasty repetitive habit of broadcasting dangerous fabrications that all too often have focused on Jews and/or the Jewish State, and that are sometimes used to “justify” antisemitic violence. For instance, on separate occasions he has blamed antisemitic attacks in the U.K. and in Germany on Israel (instead of antisemites,) then claimed he was misunderstood. He has also referred to Jewish law as “primitive,” mockingly referenced Jewish culture, defended war crimes committed by terrorist organizations including Hamas, and expressed dismay that Israel has not suffered more casualties as it defends itself.
It is also clear why Dean Elmendorf might feel that Roth is not entitled to a position at Harvard simply because he says false things about Israel and calls it “scholarship.” Despite his supposed “expertise” in international law, Roth’s 2021 histrionic report labeling the Jewish state guilty of “apartheid,” is a throwback to the Zionism-is-racism United Nations canard that is demonstrably false, factually, morally, and legally, and it was widely rejected. Roth’s dubious understanding of the basics of international humanitarian law and the principle of proportionality – it is a prospective, not a retrospective analysis – have been repeatedly exposed, as has his disturbing inability to recognize genocide when it comes to threats against Jews.
In attempting to paint himself as the victim, Roth seems to have conflated the ideas of “free speech” and “academic freedom.” Spreading falsehoods through shoddily researched reports riddled with errors, omissions, and supporting outright lies, is absolutely protected First Amendment activity outside of the academy — but it is precisely the kind of behavior that demonstrates professional unfitness for an academic post. As the American Academy of University Professors has explained, “Freedom of speech presumes the freedom of the individual to opine without regard to standards other than the dictates of his or her own conscience and the minimal requirements of the law. By contrast, scholars are failing to do their job — and may be subject to discipline — if they do not reject ideas that have been tested and found wanting.” Roth can (and does) say whatever he wants, but that doesn’t mean anyone has to support, let alone hire him.
It is also worth noting that both Elmendorf and the Kennedy School are demonstrably not biased towards Israel — despite what the woke mob frantically demanding his resignation might believe. As recently as 2020, for example, under Dean Elmendorf’s tenure, Saeb Arekat himself, the chief negotiator for the Palestinian Liberation Organization, was awarded a year-long fellowship. The problem here is obviously not Kenneth Roth’s “viewpoint” on Israel or any legitimate criticism he might offer — it is Kenneth Roth’s blind spot born of apparent hate which manifests as disciplinary incompetence.
As always though, it is easier to just blame the Jews, or Israel, for causing all the worlds’ problems.
Dr. Mark Goldfeder is an international lawyer and Director of the National Jewish Advocacy Center.
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.