Protest, Don't Ban, Harvard's Anti-Israel Conference

On March 3 and 4, Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government will host a conference calling for the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state.

The conference, which is being organized by Harvard student groups and faculty, and which makes use of university funding, will feature a variety of vehement anti-Israel speakers, including Chicago-based extremist Ali Abunimah, radical Harvard Law School professor Duncan Kennedy, and revisionist Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, among others.

The organizers make a special effort to acknowledge those who have supported the conference in one way or another–including Harvard’s Carr Center for Human Rights, whose founding executive director, Samantha Power, is a key foreign policy adviser to President Barack Obama as part of the National Security Council (and no great friend of Israel herself).

The conference has caused a stir online, and some Harvard alumni are circulating a petition pointing out that the conference is not only anti-Israel, but antisemitic, and calling for Harvard to:

– withdraw all financial support of this conference

– prohibit the use of Harvard University facilities for the conference

– remove the logos of Harvard and Harvard affiliates from the conference website

– disavow the State Department defined anti-Semitic message of this conference

As much as I agree with the criticisms of the conference, I cannot sign or support the petition, for three reasons.

First, the answer to bad speech is almost always more speech. There is no reason supporters of Israel cannot protest the Harvard conference, or organize a parallel conference–about Palestinian terrorism, for example, and its connection to the genocidal Iranian regime.

Second, the anti-Israel conference is actually useful to friends of Israel, because the supposed luminaries on the program are all, to one degree or another, fools. Abunimah, for one, is proud of his role in anti-Israel protests at the University of Chicago in October 2009. Those demonstrations included pro-Hitler slogans outside a speech by former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert–a speech that Abunimah successfully disrupted, denying others the academic freedom he and others will no doubt invoke to defend the anti-Israel conference at Harvard.

Likewise, Duncan Kennedy is more of a burden than a boon to the Palestinian cause. I took his course on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict when I was at Harvard, and the experience was a transformative one for me, largely because I learned just how empty the “lawfare” of the anti-Israel left really is. They accuse Israel of violating international law–until you point out to them that Israel is in compliance with that law, whereupon they shift quickly to argue that international law itself is unjust because it is written by imperialist nations, and so on. Also, when you evaluate Kennedy’s arguments in the context of his many other absurd views–such as that we should deal with illegal immigration by dissolving the U.S.-Mexico border–it is to the great benefit of Israel’s friends that Israel’s enemies consider Kennedy a leading light.

Third, the anti-Israel conference is useful for examining the roots of Obama administration policy. This is Obama’s crowd–as documented by Abunimah himself, who laments that the Obama who aspired to higher office was not as radical as the Obama he knew in Chicago:

Over the years since I first saw Obama speak I met him about half a dozen times, often at Palestinian and Arab-American community events in Chicago including a May 1998 community fundraiser at which Edward Said was the keynote speaker. In 2000, when Obama unsuccessfully ran for Congress I heard him speak at a campaign fundraiser hosted by a University of Chicago professor. On that occasion and others Obama was forthright in his criticism of US policy and his call for an even-handed approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

You never know which aspiring future politicians are going to show up at controversial Ivy League conferences. Precisely for that reason, advocates of Israel should bring cameras to the Harvard conference, the better to place on record the madness and hateful radicalism of the academic left that provided many of Obama’s appointees and much of its policy inspiration.

So let Harvard host an anti-Israel hate-fest. It is the university’s right, and the students’ right–just as it is the right of other students and alumni to protest, withhold donations, and, above all, bear witness to the moral and intellectual lunacy of the anti-Israel left.