This past weekend Harvard hosted a One-State Solution Conference, designed to promote the dissolution of Israel. It is only the latest example of that university’s longstanding practice of facilitating the spread of anti-Semitism.
The virulently anti-Israel Harvard student organizations that sponsored the event, including the Palestine Solidarity Committee, Justice for Palestine, the Palestine Caucus, and the Arab Caucus, acknowledge in the program that the One-State Solution Conference would not have been possible without the support of the Carr Center for Human Rights at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and funding from the Harvard Provost’s Office and the Center for International Affairs.
Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust and her administration did not express any concern over the conference’s heavily biased and non-scholarly nature. Not one of the speakers is known to be sympathetic to Israel, and many are prominently involved in the campaign to boycott Israel’s universities and to pressure American schools to divest any holdings in corporations that do business there.
Benny Morris, a leading scholar of the Arab-Israeli conflict, has described keynote speaker Ilan Pappé, a supporter of Israel’s minuscule Communist party, as “at best… one of the world’s sloppiest historians; at worst, one of the most dishonest.”
Harvard Law School professor Duncan Kennedy, the opening speaker, has denied that Hamas is committed to Israel’s destruction, even though the Hamas charter accuses Jews of plotting to take over the world, and claims they caused the two world wars and the French and Bolshevik revolutions.
Unfortunately, there is nothing new about Harvard’s tolerating and even assisting anti-Semitic propagandists. In 2000, Harvard’s Divinity School accepted funds from United Arab Emirates dictator Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan to endow a professorship in Islamic Religious Studies named for him. The dictator had already established a Zayed Centre in his own nation that condemned Israel’s existence and promoted Holocaust denial. Harvard planned faculty exchanges with the Zayed Centre.
No Harvard administrator or professor publicly criticized the university’s acceptance of the sheik’s funds. The endowed professorship was withdrawn only because a graduate student, Rachel Fish, mobilized public support against it.
By contrast, the Harvard administration refused to host an academic conference on American responses to the Holocaust that the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies proposed in 2004. Many of the world’s leading Holocaust scholars are affiliated with the Wyman Institute. The institute asked me to present the keynote lecture, on Harvard’s response to Nazism. As a courtesy, I sent then-Harvard president Larry Summers a detailed summary of my lecture. Summers’s office replied several months later that it would not host the conference. It emphasized that no Harvard administrator would attend if it were held elsewhere. Boston University’s Elie Wiesel Center for Judaic Studies was delighted to serve as host.
My lecture focused on how Harvard and other elite universities forged friendly ties with Germany’s Nazified universities, helping the Hitler regime improve its image in the West. Harvard sent a delegate to Heidelberg University’s 550th anniversary celebration in 1936, a Nazi propaganda festival orchestrated by Josef Goebbels. This occurred after Germany’s universities expelled their Jewish faculty members and the Nuremberg Laws stripped Jews of their citizenship. Heidelberg University promoted Nazi “racial science” and “Aryan Physics.”
Harvard warmly welcomed to its campus Hitler’s foreign press chief Ernst Hanfstaengl, a fanatical anti-Semite. Harvard president James Conant called anti-Nazi protesters who demonstrated against Hanfstaengl’s visit “ridiculous.” Harvard Law School dean Roscoe Pound accepted an honorary degree from Berlin University, personally presented by Nazi Germany’s ambassador, Hans Luther. Harvard Law professor Felix Frankfurter unsuccessfully pleaded with Conant not to allow the ceremony to be held on campus.
Sadly, there is consistency in Harvard’s complicity in helping Nazi Germany present itself as civilized during the 1930s; accepting funds from a Holocaust denier, Sheik Zayed; trying to suppress a scholarly conference on the Holocaust; and now serving as a platform to promote the destruction of the Jewish state.
Stephen H. Norwood is professor of history at the University of Oklahoma and author, most recently, of “The Third Reich in the Ivory Tower: Complicity and Conflict on American Campuses” (Cambridge University Press, 2009).