I followed the issue of appointing Kenneth Roth to Harvard University carefully as I am a graduate of the Kennedy School at Harvard, and I have always been struck by the extent of discrimination in favor of Israeli students at the university at the expense of other Palestinians, and the amount of real academic freedom in the university.

For those who do not know, the dean of the college, Douglas Elmendorf, refused to appoint the former president of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, as a fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights, because of his criticism of the Zionist entity.

For me it is not unusual at Harvard;

There are dozens of stories that my fellow graduates and I know about the marginalization of the novel and the Palestinian cause and the embrace of the novel and the Zionist agenda.

For example, every year and for the past decades, Kennedy College at Harvard is committed to receiving 10 students from the Zionist entity to engage among students and professors, in addition to a number of colleagues in the college's research centers with full grants from Liz Wexner (an American billionaire who founded an institution whose goal is to support Jewish leadership in the world and in the entity Zionism in the early eighties).

Many of these "students" come from the Mossad, the Air Force, the President's Office, the army, and various other locations.

You can imagine the impact of the presence of this bloc in the university ranks against a Palestinian student to 3 at the latest.

For example, during my stay at the university, the students organized a fashion show in which the students displayed the costumes of their culture. I wore the Palestinian dress and my colleague wore the keffiyeh, and when it was our turn to walk, the master of the ceremony read a text that we had given him. It stated that the embroiderer of my dress is a Palestinian refugee who immigrated during the Nakba and lives in a camp in Lebanon, and that The keffiyeh that my colleague wears is a symbol of resistance against the occupation imposed on the Palestinian people.

A few days later, we were summoned to the dean's office, and we sat on the couch waiting, when he scolded us claiming that he had received letters from other students because we hurt their feelings and did not tell their story, but rather spread "propaganda".

This story is one of the simplest stories about discrimination in the university, but it is important for its simplicity, as you can see what the picture looks like inside the university.

I thought about what had changed this time and made the dean send a letter apologizing for the "mistake", apologizing for the damage caused by his decision, announcing his reversal of the decision and appointing Kenneth Roth as a fellow in the college.

I don't claim to know the whole story;

So far, the Dean of the College, Douglas Elmendorf, has not yet disclosed the people who advised him to refuse the appointment of Kenneth Roth after his team from the Carr Center nominated him. He is one of the real decision-makers at a university that is the richest and best, and does not need to be governed by any party!

As for his reversal of the decision to appoint the former director of Human Rights Watch, there are 4 different aspects to this story when compared to previous similar stories: 

  • First - The issuance of a report by Michael Massing revealing the story in “The Nation” magazine, and it was published on January 5, 2023, noting that the decision not to appoint was in the summer of 2022. A detailed report sheds light on the college’s discriminatory policies and highlights the university’s funders Among them are Ofer, Rubinstein, Wexner, and Belfer- and their impact on the college.

    The report was detailed, in-depth, and investigative. It was strange to the major Western newspapers, which are now reluctant to raise issues that might put pressure on them from the Jewish "lobby" in the United States.

  • Secondly - the report would not have been possible had it not been for Kenneth Roth and two people from within the Carr Center for Human Rights who spoke with "The Nation" about the story, and revealed its details and the content of the sessions and emails exchanged with the dean of the college, which is unprecedented.

    As Palestinian students in the college, we have always heard our professors telling us in closed rooms that they are with the Palestinian people and their rights, and that our cause is just, but they cannot say this openly because of the price it has on their career development.

    We heard the stories of Stephen Walt and Cornel West, two distinguished professors who paid the price for their criticism of the Zionist entity or the Jewish "lobby".

    Which hindered their academic career at Harvard University.

    But in this round, it was different.

    College professors spoke not only with "The Nation"

    but also with their colleagues at the college and university and with the dean individually and collectively, and many of them accepted the dean's invitation to meet last week to talk about the matter;

    They expressed their dissatisfaction and disappointment with their university and demanded that the dean reverse his decision and disclose the persons who advised him to refuse the appointment.

  • As for the third variable, it was Kenneth Roth himself;

    His reputation, credibility, and history brought wide respect, listening ears, and attention from the media, and when "The Nation" revealed the story, he did not leave any platform without raising his voice in it.

    He has written for the Guardian and has spoken to NPR, The Boston Globe, The New York Times and more.

    He dominated the narrative and framed the story through interviews and tweets.

    The Boston Globe subsequently issued an article entitled "Harvard Should Stand with Its Principles, Not with Israel."

    The dean of the college tried to claim that his decision to reject the appointment of Kenneth Roth was related to what he would add to the college and not because of the financiers (i.e. the Jewish lobby and the Zionist influence), but Kenneth Roth, in his interviews and tweets, refuted this claim and maintained the narrative that whoever criticizes the Zionist entity at Harvard pays the price. It is time for that to change.

  • Fourth - Finally, the organization of the students and graduates was remarkable, noting that the university was on vacation and the students were spread all over the world.

    The Palestinian graduates of the Kennedy School took advantage of the opportunity and organized the Palestinian Alumni Caucus, issuing a statement calling for the resignation of the dean and the appointment of Kenneth Roth, and they referred to their experiences of discrimination and persecution at the Kennedy School.

    After that, a petition was published addressed to the Dean of Almendorf College, the current university president and the next president, and it collected the signatures of more than 35 student blocs of various origins and affiliations, and the signatures of more than a thousand people from Harvard.

    It is true that this is not the first time that the student blocs have taken action, but the scale of the response was unprecedented.

    The four reasons vary in importance, but they are all important because each of them feeds the other, and it is important for what you have achieved and what you might achieve if the effort continues. 

After the dean reversed his decision to appoint Kenneth Roth, many parties - including Kenneth Roth and the Palestinian Alumni Association and other student blocs - issued statements saying that reversing the decision is good but not sufficient, and the dean must resign and the college must develop new policies to ensure that the decision does not affect Funders and the Zionist "lobby" on freedom in the university.

Harvard's new president is expected to take office in July.

Knowing that she is the first person of African descent to hold this position, her appointment came after Harvard University apologized in the spring of 2022 for the slavery it had practiced in its history.

Will the new university president bring about changes in the ranks of her administration so that the university becomes a space for freedom that respects human rights and does not accept any pressure on her students, colleagues and professors for their opinions, nor does she accept that criticism of the Zionist entity be a reason for suppressing academic freedoms?

I hope for her, as did the Palestinian Alumni Association before me, "that the Kennedy College at Harvard be an institution that welcomes the Palestinians and those who stand with us in our struggle for freedom from occupation and colonialism. We look forward to a day when our defense of our rights and freedom will be a reason for appreciation and praise, not punishment."