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Harvard and the 'One-State Solution'

February 27, 2012

Its proponents describe the "one-state solution" as a new approach to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in which Israelis and Palestinians would together form a single country. Critics -- including many who differ with Israeli policies toward the Palestinians -- view the "one-state solution" as code for saying that Israel should be eliminated as a Jewish state.

An academic conference on the idea -- organized by Harvard University students sympathetic to the concept, and featuring professors and others who are as well -- has the university simultaneously defending the right of students, under the principles of academic freedom, to organize the conference, and criticizing how they have done so. The Israeli press has featured articles with headlines such as "Harvard to Host Conference of Hate," and a conservative American website has labeled the conference "Harvard's academic pogrom." The conference has also attracted the attention and criticism of major Jewish groups. On Friday, the Anti-Defamation League announced that its national director had spoken with Harvard's president, Drew Faust, and the dean of the university's John F. Kennedy School of Government, David Elwood, on Thursday to express concerns. The ADL praised some (but not all) of what Ellwood said in a subsequent statement to the ADL, which the university also released to Inside Higher Ed.

"Harvard University and the Harvard Kennedy School in no way endorse or support the apparent position of the student organizers or any participants. We would never take a position on specific policy solutions to achieving peace in this region, and certainly would not endorse any policy that some argue could lead to the elimination of the Jewish State of Israel," said the statement from Ellwood.

Ellwood said that the principles of academic freedom mean that Harvard students can organize conferences as they wish, and that the university does not limit their topics or speakers. At the same time, however, he criticized the conference's selection of speakers.

"I am deeply disappointed to see that the list of speakers for this student conference is so one-sided. While not all speakers support the so called 'one-state solution,' I would certainly have expected to see a much broader debate on a topic that is so contentious," he wrote. "Without the balance of divergent views that characterize the most enriching discussions, the credibility and intellectual value of any event is open to question."

He also said he was "particularly concerned that many of the initial conference materials and the comments of some outsiders may have given the false impression that the university supports the agenda or the position of the conference organizers." This is not true, he said, and "we are actively working to ensure that this misimpression of institutional endorsement is corrected."

Currently, the conference website, while labeled  a "Harvard Kennedy School Student Conference," has a disclaimer high on the page, which says that "students alone are responsible for all aspects of the program, including content and speakers, as with all student-run events. It does not represent the views of the Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University, or any Harvard school or center."

The conference website describes its purpose this way: "To date, the only Israel/Palestine solution that has received a fair rehearsal in mainstream forums has been the two-state solution. Our conference will help to expand the range of academic debate on this issue. Thus, our main goal is to educate ourselves and others about the possible contours of a one-state solution and the challenges that stand in the way of its realization."

Conference organizers declined to respond to questions about the criticisms in the Harvard statement about the views of speakers and whether initial materials gave an incorrect impression of a university endorsement. But one organizer -- Ahmed Moor, a graduate student at the Kennedy School -- responded to a question about whether "one-state solution" is code for the destruction of Israel. His e-mail response: "In an era when presidential candidates feel it is appropriate to deny the existence of the Palestinian people, I understand why some may feel threatened by a call for equal rights in Israel/Palestine. In America too, people once feared the consequences of an end to segregation. More recently, Afrikaners worried that enfranchising South African blacks may be a bad decision. But they learned that granting everyone equal rights is nothing to be afraid of. Indeed, their country is better since the fall of apartheid."

Abraham H. Foxman, the ADL's national director, said the following in a statement Friday, after receiving Harvard's statement: "The dangerous implications of a conference promoting the elimination of the Jewish state are far-reaching and of great concern. We believe Dean Ellwood's statement reflects Harvard University's effort to protect the cherished right of academic freedom and act responsibly by publicly rejecting odious ideas. However, we strongly disagree with the dean's suggestion that a 'balance of divergent views' could ever legitimize the consideration of a one-state solution which, by its very nature, will result in the end of the Jewish character of Israel."

 

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