Anti-Semitism in Academic Guise

The 'One-state solution' conference at Harvard University tried to give an academic seal of approval to the delegitimization of Israel.

Matan Guttman
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Matan Guttman

Every Israeli student who comes to study at a university in the United States very quickly learns that the truly important academic events are those that happen during the noontime break. In addition to a free lunch, you get additional fare that broadens your horizons a bit.

Recently, an event of this sort was held at the Harvard Law School, devoted to the case of Khader Adnan, an Islamic Jihad operative who held a hunger strike and petitioned Israel's Supreme Court to protest his administrative detention in an Israeli prison. (Adnan has since been released.) I left this event with a bitter taste in my mouth. For about an hour, in a hall filled to capacity, the meeting's organizers depicted Israel in an extremely bleak light and did not let the facts confuse them. I am convinced that an outside observer who is not familiar with the intricacies of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict believes that Israel makes a hobby of detaining Palestinians under administrative arrest.

Not a single word was said about Palestinian terror or about the fact that no country in the world allows an administrative detainee to petition its Supreme Court directly, as in the case of Adnan, for example. The double standard was also glaring, as only a few dozen kilometers from the bed where the hunger-striking Adnan was hospitalized, Syrian President Bashar Assad continued to slaughter his own countrymen. But of course it is Israel that is in serious violation of human rights, requiring an urgent academic discussion.

Everyone has the right to express criticism of Israel and in some cases it is justified - this is the essence of democracy. However, the recent events at Harvard give the sense that something else is hiding beneath the guise of academic debate. I felt this even more palpably when I spoke to the organizers of the event and introduced myself. The smile on the face of the Palestinian woman who had organized the discussion faded away immediately when I said the words "I am from Israel."

That event was only the beginning. On March 1 the topic of the annual faculty debate at the law school was: "Can Israel be both Jewish and democratic?" At this event, which was balanced, there were also harsh opinions expressed undermining Israel's legitimacy, with hints of a parallel to Germany in the 1930s.

But the peak came a few days later at the "One-state solution" conference. Organized by a student but held under the aegis of the university, this event tried to give an academic seal of approval to the delegitimization of Israel. At this meeting, the words "apartheid" and "Israel" were paired. The Israeli side was represented by "supporters" of Israel and Zionism like anti-Zionist historian Prof. Ilan Pappe. (As Prof. Alan Dershowitz noted, it would be interesting to know what Harvard's reaction would have been had a group of students held a conference under the heading "Does a Palestinian people exist?", inviting only academics who contend that the answer is no.)

This is not real academic discussion nor is it legitimate criticism, but rather simply an attempt to hold a debate on whether the Jewish people has the right to a state - and to answer that question in the negative. This was not a conference at some obscure institution or an event held in Europe, where the outcome is a foregone conclusion. This was a conference with an anti-Semitic hue, held at one of the most important academic institutions in the world.

Therefore I am proud to be part of a group of students organizing the first "Harvard-Israel" conference. This event aims to present Israeli innovativeness and entrepreneurship and, more importantly, to present original solutions and economic developments for peace and coexistence between the peoples. If both sides - Israelis and Palestinians - develop a positive approach, recognize the other's legitimacy and do not engage in spreading hatred, perhaps there will be a better future for all of us.

The writer is a lawyer studying for a master's degree at Harvard Law School.



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