Students and Alumni Protest HKS Conference on Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

A conference considering a one-state solution to the Israeli and Palestinian conflict at the Harvard Kennedy School next week has provoked strong reactions from supporters and detractors alike.

Harvard students and alumni have signed an online petition calling on the University to withdraw all financial support and distance itself from the event.

In response, speakers and sponsors of the “One State Conference” sent a letter to University President Drew G. Faust and Kennedy School Dean David T. Ellwood ’75 on Monday in defense of the conference.

The conference, which will be held on Mar. 3 and 4, is sponsored by Justice for Palestine, the Palestine Caucus, the Arab Caucus, the Progressive Caucus, and the Association for Justice in the Middle East. Its organizers include affiliates from the Kennedy School, the Law School, and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. The letter written to Faust and Ellwood called criticism of the conference “completely and entirely baseless” and urged the University to maintain its connection with the conference and the ideas expressed there.

One of the letters’ signatories, Nimer Sultany, a doctoral candidate at the Law School who will be speaking at the event, said he is participating to consider alternatives to the current “impasse” in the peace process between Israel and Palestine.

“There is a need to rethink alternatives...that would achieve peace that is based on justice and equality for all, rather than the domination of the stronger party,” Sultany wrote in an email.

The petition opposing the conference accused the event of propagating a manifestation of “new anti-Semitism.” The petition, which went live last Wednesday, has already garnered more than 2,000 signatures.

In addition to its demand that Harvard withdraw all financial support for the conference, the petition also urged the University to prevent the conference from using University facilities and to remove Harvard logos from the conference’s website.

Although protesters acknowledged the speakers’ right to free speech, petition signers took issue with Harvard’s financial backing of the conference.

“People have a right to speak their minds. That’s not the issue,”  said Gabriel M. Scheinmann ’08, one of the petition’s creators. “They don’t have the right to do it on the dime of others.”

Scheinmann said that the petition has already achieved some of its demands. The Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Kennedy School and the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs have both removed their logos from the conference website since the petition went up, and a disclaimer has been added to the website, stating that the views raised in the conference do not represent those of Harvard University.

Joshua B. Lipson ’14, a Crimson editor on the editorial board and co-president of Harvard Students for Israel, said that he agrees in principle with a lot of the objections that have been raised about the conference, but did not sign the petition.

“In an ideal world, it wouldn’t be happening at Harvard,” Lipson said.

However, he added that “the petition’s aim is missing the fact that Harvard offers institutional support to all kinds of student groups in the name of [free] speech, even those we may find distasteful or ill-informed.”

“It’s a drastic measure to ask to revoke the University’s provision of space,” Lipson said.

—Staff writer Aisling H. Crane can be reached at acrane@college.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Melanie A. Guzman can be reached at melanieguzman@college.harvard.edu

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