Understandably, the officers of Phillips Brooks House are enthusiastic about Project Jarba, for the project in Jordan is a noble undertaking, an exciting experiment, and it is their baby. They have worked hard on it, have become personally involved in it, and are now deeply committed to pushing it through--so deeply committed, in fact, that they have overlooked an obvious stumbling block.
The difficulty lies not in the proposed program itself. The plan to send 25-35 qualified undergraduates to help a tribe of Bedouins build a village seems sound; it can have beneficial results for both the nomads and the students.
But the project will not contribute towards a solution of the Arab refugee problem. Those who have suggested that it may (e.g. the CRIMSON and the President of PBH) have been misinformed. Bedouins are not Palestinian refugees; they are nomads. And the tribesmen whom Project Jarba is to help wander only on the Jordanian side of the Jordan River. It is misleading (at best) to advertise the project as striking a blow for peace in the Middle East. PBH will have to be satisfied with the more modest goal of giving 300 nomads a more secure life.
This goal is not exactly within Harvard's normal sphere of activity, but it is certainly a goal which the University could support unhesitantingly if not for the refusal of the Jordanian government to grant visas to American Jews. The Jordanian ban on Jewish travel would require Harvard to ask a student his religion before considering him for Project Jarba. This is something which in principle Harvard has refused to do. It is something which in point of law Harvard does not have a clear right to do.
The Massachusetts Fair Employment Practice Act forbids employers to inquire into the race, religion, national origin, or creed of a prospective employee. The Fair Educational Practice provisions which parallel the act make similar requirements of educational institutions in the state. Thus high school students applying for admission to Harvard College are requested to mention nothing which would indicate their racial or religious background. And they are pointedly not asked to submit photographs of themselves. The democratic principle underlying the Massachusetts law needs no introduction to members of Phillips Brooks House, which has distinguished itself by fighting against discrimination in housing.
In its relations with Arab states the United States government has on occasion compromised this principle for reasons of state. American philanthropic organizations have compromised it for reasons of altruism. But neither diplomatic necessity nor philanthropic license are foremost criteria for the policy of Harvard University. Above all, Harvard has the legal and moral obligations of an educational institution to look after.
A faculty committee meets today to give or withhold approval of Project Jarba. If (as is most unlikely) Jordan agrees to abandon unreservedly its offensive thesis that all American Jews are agents of Israel, Project Jarba should go through. If (as it possible) Jordan admits Jews but indicates that they will be in physical danger, the Committee might well delay decision until it has the Committee might well delay decision until it has time to weigh the evidence and consult legal advice. If (as is very likely) Jordan refuses to waive its ban on Jews, the Committee has no choice but to tell PBH to look for another project.