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In its recent editorial on the controversy surrounding Harvard Kennedy School Dean Douglas W. Elmendorf’s decision to block a fellowship for former Human Rights Watch head Kenneth Roth, The Crimson’s Editorial Board took a bold stance, denouncing Elmendorf’s suppression of freedom of speech. However, in its 752-word article, The Crimson mentioned the central issue in the fellowship denial — Roth’s support of Palestinian rights and criticism of Israel — only once.
The Crimson seems to have fallen victim to the same regime of silencing — it is safer, such logic goes, not to talk about “controversial” issues — which it purports to criticize in its article.
The Editorial Board passionately exalts the principle of academic freedom and apologizes to Roth on behalf of the Harvard community, arguing Harvard can make amends by “improving.” However, The Crimson never explains exactly what can be improved. To discuss Elmendorf’s decision without providing context on Harvard’s anti-Palestinian racism and institutional bias towards Israeli policy is to circle the drain on the issue but avoid its actual stakes.
This is more than just another depoliticized conversation about academic freedom. Palestinian and pro-Palestinian voices in the United States and on college campuses are systemically silenced, as recently documented in The Boston Globe and Jewish Currents. The central reason for the fellowship denial remains unaddressed by Harvard and notably absent from Elmendorf’s email, just as it is mentioned in mere passing in The Crimson’s take on the matter.
As Harvard affiliates who advocate for justice in Palestine, we have come to expect the silencing of Palestinian voices as a formative part of our academic experience. Blocked hiring decisions like this one, student and faculty fear of blacklisting on sites like Canary Mission, and mysterious tenure denials are part of a system of keeping Palestinian voices quiet. The stifling may be subtle, as when professors hedge class discussions of Palestine to avoid “controversy,” or more explicit, like when organizers with the Palestine Solidarity Committee were made to turn people away from an already-approved public event due to threats made against our guest speakers and organization. These violations of academic freedom do not occur in a vacuum; they cannot be prevented by an academic freedom policy which does not address the particularities of the Palestinian exception to free speech.
This is exactly why The Crimson’s silence is so ironic. Even in its outrage over a matter of suppression of free speech because of outspokenness in support of Palestinian liberation, The Crimson has managed to paper over Palestine.
In place of the Editorial Board’s vague recommendation for “improvement,” we call on Harvard to take the following steps to address institutional anti-Palestinian racism:
1) Adopt a University-wide policy protecting against anti-Palestinian racism and protecting those with pro-Palestinian views against discrimination: a) In hiring decisions b) In admissions c) In disciplinary proceedings.
2) Amend Dean Elmendorf’s apology regarding Kenneth Roth’s fellowship clarifying that his decision was rooted in suppression of criticism of Israeli policy and disclosure of how the decision was reached.
We thank The Crimson’s Editorial Board for standing up in favor of academic freedom. We hope, though, that next time they choose to weigh in on an issue like this, they take more care not to replicate the same pattern about which they have taken such a lofty moral stance.
Nadine S. Bahour ’22 is a research assistant at the T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Shraddha Joshi ’24 is a Social Studies concentrator in Pforzheimer House. Josh D. Willcox ’23 is a Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations concentrator in Pforzheimer House. They are organizers with Harvard College Palestine Solidarity Committee.
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