If you have been reading the Crimson editorial page at all recently, you are most likely aware that the Harvard Kennedy School will be hosting a conference this weekend devoted to discussing the possibility of a “one-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In response to this event, numerous Jewish organizations and public figures have harshly condemned Harvard’s financial support for the conference. Some have dubbed it an “academic pogrom” while a prominent petition currently being circulated goes so far as to deem the gathering a “manifestation of the face of the ‘new anti-Semitism.’”
These incendiary charges go too far. While we too possess strong reservations about the content of the conference, we defend the right of students to hold this symposium, and Harvard’s right to sponsor it.
To call this conference, as the petition does, a forum for “one of the most ancient forms of racial hatred,” is unwarranted and counterproductive. Allegations like these simply serve to stymie serious public discourse on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There is no evidence that the discussion at this conference expresses antipathy towards Jews as a people, which is the definition of anti-Semitism. There is definitely a line to be drawn regarding such sentiments, and we do not believe that this conference crosses it.
It is also important to note that Harvard has hosted and helped fund numerous controversial conferences in the past, reflecting its robust commitment to academic freedom. Last April, 2011, for example, a student group at the Harvard Extension School ran the Social Transformation Conference, which promoted faith-based initiatives in the public sphere but in addition featured strongly and openly homophobic and Islamophobic speakers. This event quickly drew the ire of numerous student groups on campus, and also sparked a widely- circulated petition urging Harvard to cancel the conference. But rather than calling on Harvard to withdraw its sponsorship, we urged individuals concerned with the conference’s content to attend “and embrace free speech as much as the conference organizers.” We encourage individuals who find the One-State Conference objectionable to follow suit and make their views known.
In this spirit, we forcefully contend that there are numerous well-reasoned and powerful arguments to be made against the so-called “one-state solution” proposed by this conference. Practical questions of implementing such a solution aside, the one-state solution effectively denies the Jewish people the right to national self-determination. Indeed, only the two-state solution protects and respects the national aspirations of both Jews and Palestinians in this conflict, and is the sole solution supported by a majority of both parties—not to mention the international community. The One State Conference utterly fails to address these crucial concerns.
Furthermore, just as we condemn the radical rhetoric of some of the conference’s detractors, we also condemn the extremist language of some of its supporters. In an op-ed that ran in the Crimson on Monday, for example, three advocates for the conference compared Israel to Apartheid South Africa, and laid the entirety of blame for the perpetuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the Jewish state. Aside from its dishonesty, this kind of sophistry is deeply unproductive and fosters neither normalization nor dialogue between the two sides; indeed, it promotes mistrust and retrenchment.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has a long and protracted history, with both sides having committed wrongs over the last six decades. Any attempt to resolve this conflict must acknowledge this, and not ignore it in favor of self-serving demonization of the other. We therefore wish to highlight Harvard Students for Israel’s nuanced and level-headed response to this conference, which balances a profound disapproval of its content with support for the right of all Harvard students to political expression. It is our sincere hope that HSI’s statement can serve as a model for a more civil campus discourse on Israel/Palestine in the years ahead.