To the editor:
On November 8, The Harvard Arab Weekend included a panel discussing the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement—a nonviolent, decentralized effort to put pressure on Israel to comply with international law (specifically, UN resolutions 194 and 242). This panel, which I moderated, was in tune with the conference’s progressive theme of “inspiring solutions.” Other panels discussed LGBT rights in the Arab world, media transparency, and the reemergence of medical research in the Middle East.
In the days before the panel, we were surprised when we received several emails asking us to cancel the panel, describing it as “anti-Semitic” and as advocating “the destruction of the one Jewish state.” The logic of these accusations, which were also expressed in an op-ed (“Reckless Sponsorship of Anti-Israelism,” Nov. 18, 2014), was not well articulated and seemed to be the product of over-intellectualization. The emails and op-ed also demonstrated a clear misunderstanding of the positions of several of our panelists on key issues—especially those of Dr. Noam Chomsky, who has questioned BDS approach and demands. There was also a gross misrepresentation of the BDS movement on the issue of the two-state solution. We encourage readers to visit the BDS website and make their own judgments.
We do not endorse the views of the invited speakers, and nor do our sponsors. We also understand that some may find the BDS movement controversial. But that is no reason to prevent an open forum of discussion from occurring at an academic institution. Silencing the “other” leads to misunderstanding and thus does not promote peace.
To the editor:
“Inspiring solutions” to the multitude of challenges facing the Arab World in a calm and constructive manner was the theme that we, the Harvard Arab Alumni Association, chose for our annual Harvard Arab Weekend—the largest Arab conference in North America. Participants brainstormed avenues for a brighter future for the region under Harvard’s aegis of free speech, a right denied to most Arabs.
We inspired hope that echoed through Marcel Khalife's healing tunes at Memorial Church, through Bassem Yousseff’s humor that withstands oppression, through the resilience of Syrians yearning for freedom, through the dynamism of Arab entrepreneurs, through the vision of Arab media leaders, through the credibility of prominent financiers, through educating refugees, and through the Arab World’s best and brightest at Harvard.
Using peaceful tactics to express personal rejection of basic human rights infringements has been the hallmark of the struggle against apartheid. It is in this spirit, the same as the one behind Mahatma Ghandi’s nonviolent resistance, that one of the fifteen panels at the conference discussed the boycotts, divestment, and sanctions movement. Nudging states to comply with Security Council and UN resolutions through peaceful means is a method worthy of debate at an intellectual beacon of free speech like Harvard; the alternative (“Reckless Sponsorship of Anti-Israelism,” Nov. 18, 2014) is sheer censorship.
Extremists have always attempted to silence respectful debate and overwhelm those who dare to hope. We all face ideologues who attempt to monopolize the agenda by fear mongering, be it through physical violence or through curtailing freedom of speech. These ideologies can only succeed if they scare the majority, who yearn for a peaceful and prosperous future.
We are committed to healing the polarization tearing our region apart. Harvard’s collective wisdom must be at the forefront of such an honorable endeavor. We thank our thousands of participants: students, alumni, faculty, and sponsors. To those who fear free debate here at Harvard and there in our part of the world, we express our resolve to continue to dream, hope, and inspire solutions.
Mohamad Al-Ississ ’00
Director of Communications, Harvard Arab Alumni Association