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Harvard President Bacow to Visit Middle East in Spring Break Trip

Harvard University President Lawrence S. Bacow is set to travel to Jordan, Israel, and Palestine during the University's spring break.
Harvard University President Lawrence S. Bacow is set to travel to Jordan, Israel, and Palestine during the University's spring break. By Julian J. Giordano
By Miles J. Herszenhorn, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard University President Lawrence S. Bacow will travel to Jordan, Israel, and Palestine later this month in one of his last international trips before leaving office later this year.

Bacow is scheduled to meet with Harvard alumni throughout the trip. He will speak to affiliates at the five-star Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Amman, Jordan, on March 11. Two days later, Bacow will attend a similar event at the Carlton Hotel in Tel Aviv, Israel, before meeting with Palestinian alumni on March 16 at a restaurant in Ramallah, a city in the West Bank.

A Harvard spokesperson confirmed Bacow’s travel plans in a statement on Thursday. In addition to meeting with Harvard alumni, Bacow will visit a number of universities and meet with higher education leaders at each stop, according to the spokesperson.

In particular, Bacow will visit the University of Haifa and tour its new downtown campus during his time in Israel, according to the spokesperson.

The University of Haifa awarded Bacow an honorary degree two years ago in a ceremony that took place virtually due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In Haifa, Bacow will meet with university affiliates in-person, the spokesperson confirmed.

Bacow’s trip initially included a stop in Istanbul, Turkey, to meet with Harvard alumni and higher education leaders, but Bacow canceled the trip in consideration of the country’s continued efforts to recover from several recent earthquakes, according to the spokesperson.

Bacow drew criticism from Harvard affiliates last month because, at the time, he had not issued a public statement about the earthquakes, which left more than 50,000 people dead in Turkey and Syria. More than 650 Harvard affiliates signed an open letter addressed to Bacow that called on the University to raise awareness about the crisis.

On Feb. 15, one day after The Crimson reported on the open letter, Bacow sent a note to Cemal Kafadar — the director of Harvard’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies — to express his “utter disbelief” at the devastation caused by the earthquakes.

“Though words fall short at a moment such as this, I want to offer my deepest condolences to you and your colleagues and students — and to all of your loved ones,” Bacow wrote.

Bacow’s trip to the Middle East comes two months after Harvard Kennedy School Dean Douglas W. Elmendorf faced backlash for allegedly denying former Human Rights Watch head Kenneth Roth a fellowship at the school over his criticism of Israel. Elmendorf later reversed his decision and apologized, a move Bacow praised.

Undergraduates had mixed reactions to Bacow’s Middle East trip.

Shraddha Joshi ’24, a spokesperson for the Harvard College Palestine Solidarity Committee, wrote in a statement that the group expects Bacow to “performatively mention the importance of peace and dignity while denying the crime of apartheid on the ground.”

“After repeatedly calling on President Bacow and Harvard to disclose Harvard’s financial ties to companies that violate international law by operating within illegal settlements, and acknowledge the university’s complicity in violence against Palestinians, this trip only serves to exacerbate PSC and Palestinian students’ disillusionment with Harvard’s administration,” Joshi wrote.

The Harvard spokesperson declined to comment on the statement.

Harvard College Israel Trek — an annual subsidized spring break trip to Israel and the West Bank — coincides with Bacow’s trip this year, but participating students should not expect to see him. The PSC has led campaigns to boycott the trip for several years, alleging that it promotes an unbalanced perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The itineraries of the student trips to Israel and Palestine do not align with Bacow’s schedule, according to the Harvard spokesperson.

Harvard Hillel President Jacob M. Miller ’25, a Crimson Editorial editor, wrote in an email Thursday that the group is “heartened to see” Bacow travel to Israel.

“We hope that Bacow’s visit to the country reveals the on-the-ground reality in Israel and inspires Bacow to counter students’ efforts to single out Israel as the only nation worthy of boycott,” Miller wrote.

—Staff writer Miles J. Herszenhorn can be reached at miles.herszenhorn@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @MHerszenhorn.

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