Harvard University Succumbs

7 Jan

Harvard University Withdraws a Fellowship from Kenneth Roth & HRW

I admit to feeling an ironic mean-spirited satisfaction that Ken Roth had his appointment as Senior Fellow at the Carr Center of Human Rights of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government cancelled. After serving for 29 years as Director of Human Rights Watch, the world’s leading organization addressing human rights violations, Roth was superbly qualified for and entitled to this appointment. And would have had it but for the exertion of effective Zionist donor influence at Harvard. Without such a backroom factor this most revered academic institution would have undoubtedly been proud of Roth’s presence. [Chris McGreal, “Harvard Blocks Role for Former Human Rights Watch Head Over Israel Criticism,” The Guardian, Jan. 6, 2023] After his long and distinguished tenure at HRW Roth had become a civil society celebrity. This incident is another demonstration that even the most respected and wealthy institutions of higher learning are not fully insulated from nasty ideological and mercenary pressures that go against their proclaimed missions.

The irony of Roth’s mistreatment recalls a somewhat illuminating anecdote that seems so relevant that I cannot resist its disclosure. Over a decade ago I was a member of a local HRW advisory committee in Santa Barbara where I live. One day I got a phone call from a friend who chaired the committee. She informed me of my removal from this body because of a conflict of interest arising from my then holding the position of UN Special Rapporteur for Israeli Violations of Human Rights in Occupied Palestine. I thought it strange that this technical rule, given its dubious application here, should have been suddenly invoked some years after I had taken up the UN position, which led me to iuire further as to the real motive for my abrupt removal..

And I suppose unsurprisingly, it didn’t take me long to find out the true explanation for my ouster. UN Watch, Israel’s puppet NGO in Geneva had complained to HRW that it was unseemly to retain on their organizational chart a person with such notorious antisemitic views as myself. It was Ken Roth, I was told who had made the move to dismiss me. in. response, What followed could have been anticipated, UN Watch seized upon the incident to boast about their influence, announcing this blacklisting ‘victory’ on their website and through media releases. HRW was silent in response, allowing the impression to stand that I had been removed from their committee because of my antisemitism. I asked that HRW issue a statement clarifying my removal from committee on their stated grounds, which I thought of as a routine request, and learned that it was supported by several senior HRW staff, but rejected by Roth. The incident had some harmful effects on my academic life: lecture invitations were withdrawn or cancelled, and I experienced a variety of other unpleasant effects of becoming ‘unacceptably controversial.’ 

By coincidence, a few weeks later Roth and I appeared on the same panel at the University of Denver, and I told him that I was harmed by the way my removal from the SB Committee was handled, giving UN Watch grounds to show that I was too extreme in my criticisms of Israel for even HRW. Roth brushed me off with these unforgettably derisive words—“no one pays any attention to what UN Watch says.” In fairness, I acknowledge the subsequent reckless bravery of HRW years later in joining Amnesty International and B’Tselem in finding that Israel had established an apartheid regime of governance when it comes to the Palestinian people. [See “A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution,’ Human Rights Watch, April 27, 2021; see also earlier report by Richard Falk & Virginia Tilley, “Israeli Pactices Towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid,” UN ESCWA, MRCH 15, 2017.] It was this single report among hundreds issued during Roth’s long tenure that caused enough of a backlash as to make Harvard succumb. 

I wish that it was true that smears by UN Watch and likeminded individuals and organizations lacked the leverage they possess to produce such totally unjustified results as inflicted on Roth. I suspect that what motivated Roth in my case was the influential Zionist membership on the HRW Board. As a child, I had known Bob Bernstein, the founder of HRW, as a family friend in NYC, and had a rather unpleasant dinner with him here in Santa Barbara a few years before incident while he was the leading Israeli advocate on the HRW Board. I learned that he and other board members were unconditional Israeli supporters who would have shed no tears about my treatment a few years hence.

Roth’s experience recalls the famous 1946 poem of the German theologian and pastor, Martin Niemöller, which vividly depicted the problems arising from the tendency of liberals under pressure to sacrifice principles for financial gain or woke morality. The poem was undoubtedly inspired by Pastor Niemöller’s own life, especially the shift from being an outspoken pro-Nazi in his early years to becoming an imprisoned anti-Nazi dissident later in life:  

First They Came 

“First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Communist

Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Pastor Martin Niemöller

19 Responses to “Harvard University Succumbs”

  1. roberthstiver January 7, 2023 at 10:09 am #

    Dr. Falk, you are a great, great, wonderful human being. My admiration for you has always been unbounded and is enhanced by this posting and its fullness. Thank you, sir.

    As for Roth, I’ve had frissons of discontent, with him at its vortex, over the earlier course of 15 years or so of idle monitorship of HRW. I can’t articulate them at this point in my dementia…but I believe that “gatekeeper” — at whatever individual or institutional level might pertain and however it may be applied in any particular event or situation — has been a major, perhaps the major, factor in the inability of humane society to break through the walls (gate) of Zionism’s unconscionable assault on the hapless Palestinians and their land…and to bring some measure of surcease to them.

    • Richard Falk January 8, 2023 at 7:58 am #

      Dear Robert, your message gives me added motivation to carry on. After 90, the struggle to STAY ALIVE takes over from BEING ALIVE, and so I need lots of encouragement to avoid ‘retiring’ in the traditional sense. Hoping that 2023 proves to be a restorative year for you, and even now your humane sensibility manifests a health that
      Western political culture lacks. Warm greetings, Richard

  2. Irene Gendzier January 7, 2023 at 10:09 am #

    Bravo Richard!! Thank you for sending your comment. The importance of the Roth incident at Harvard can’t be underestimated. That it has generated sufficient attention to Harvard’’s response making it impossible to ignore, is welcome no matter how delayed. The question now is whether this barrier will continue to fall and fail- at Harvard and elsewhere on university campuses remains to be seen.

    Sometime ago I was asked whether I had been adversely affected by my teaching on Palestine at Boston University. In response I pointed out that it was my teaching on the Middle East in general- including Palestine- that was unwelcome in the History Department before it attracted the attention of the then BU President, John Silber. Critical support came from the Political Science Department and its Chair as well as the Director of the Center for International Affairs at the time, former Ambassador Hermann Eilts.

    I continue to hope that we will meet live on one continent or another in 2023! with best wishes for the New Year, Irene


    • Richard Falk January 8, 2023 at 7:53 am #

      Dear Irene, naturally I welcomed your tale of academic life at Boston University. I could report similar friction at Princeton. And I had one quite revealing encounter with John Silver when he was trying to recruit me and my then
      wife to join the BU faculty. We are eager to come to the Boston area to see friends, and will let you and Assaf know if this happens. In the meantime, I know we will both be seeking a better 2023! with love, Richard

  3. Ray Joseph Cormier January 7, 2023 at 11:53 am #

    Richard, Best Regards wishing you a Happy and Healthy New Year of The Lord 2023!

    A lot has changed in the decade since you were victimized by UN Watch because of your views in the supposedly Free and Open Democratic Society. Israeli apologists don’t have the clout they used to have, and will have even less with the new Netanyahu government.

    Jonathan Cook writes about that with some clarity. He lived in Nazareth the place where Jesus lived. He’s very familiar with the dynamics in the Jew-Palestinian conflict on the Path to Escalation.

    ‘Is Ben-Gvir preparing a holy war against the Palestinians?’

    By visiting Al-Aqsa, the Jewish Power leader showed he has the whip hand – and there are surely more provocations up his sleeve
    Israel’s new national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, lost no time in demonstrating who is boss. On Tuesday, days after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government was sworn in, the ultra-nationalist politician marched straight in to the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex in the occupied Old City of Jerusalem – probably the most incendiary site in the Middle East. 

    Ben-Gvir did so despite reports that he had agreed with Netanyahu to delay such a visit for fear of the potentially explosive consequences. 

    But who will hold him to account for playing with fire? A prime minister who desperately needs Ben-Gvir’s support to stay in power so that Netanyahu can legislate an end to his corruption trial and keep himself out of jail? Or the Israeli police force that Ben-Gvir himself now has unprecedented control over? …………………………………………

    This is my POV on the developing ME situation I have postied on many sites recently;
    It’s important to be informed on what’s happening in the Jewish-Palestinian/Muslim conflict heating up in the Middle East under the shadow of the US WAR with Russia over Ukraine in NATO.
    The WAR is happening so the US could have boots on the ground right at Russia’s border.
    Americans wouldn’t like it one bit, if Russia had boots on the ground in CanaDa right at the US border.

    Most everybody knows what’s implied by ARMAGEDDON, 1st mentioned as a word in the Revelation of Jesus Christ.

    It was derived from Tel Megiddo during the Roman Occupation of Palestine when The Christ walked the Earth some 2000 years ago.
    TODAY, Tel Megiddo still exists as a physical place now located in Israel recreated from the BIBLE after an absence of some 2700 years.

    This 2nd Occupation of Palestine continues to this Day, and the latest LEADING INDICATORS show this World may finally be on the Path as it’s written,
    “And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. (FAKE religion whether it be Jewish, Christian or Muslim)
    For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth (Pope, Presidents, Prime Ministers, CEOs and other IDOLS of the People) and of the whole world, (the rest of us) to gather them to the Battle of that Great Day of God Almighty
    Behold, I come as a thief. (when you least expect it)
    Blessed is he that watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.
    And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon. And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon.”
    Revelation 16:13-16

  4. Sean Breathnach January 7, 2023 at 1:46 pm #

    Not only does the Israel lobby control the US Congress, it appears that they now control US University’s. Absolutely disgraceful treatment of Mr Roth.

    • Richard Falk January 8, 2023 at 7:42 am #

      Actually, I could relate similar experiences during my 40 years at Princeton.

  5. Beau Oolayforos January 7, 2023 at 2:27 pm #

    Dear Professor Falk,

    One could smell the stench of this from miles away. Not that many of us were ever surprised with Harvard’s corruption. It’s only the most current, egregious example. Mr Roth certainly doesn’t need the Crimson. As we tell our kids – “You don’t need or want those people.”

  6. muttonen January 8, 2023 at 3:07 pm #

    Dear Richard

    Thank you for your wise and humane assessment of the ironic similarity between how you were treated by HRW /Roth and how Roth is now treated by Harvard.

    It’s always salutary to read the Niemoeller poem again but when I checked just now the version Amnesty have in their website, I found the first two lines omitted from yours.

    Is there an explanation?

    In solidarity

    Brian Durrans

    • Richard Falk January 9, 2023 at 10:03 am #

      Thanks, Brian, for your message. I added the proper opening lines of the poem. Entirely my oversight, copying the text from the wrong place. With my greetings, Richard

      • muttonen January 9, 2023 at 2:57 pm #

        Thanks, Richard, for the prompt correction and predictably honourable explanation. All best, Brian

  7. Don E. Scheid January 8, 2023 at 5:10 pm #

    Jan. 8, 2023
    Hi Richard,
    It seems it must always come down to money. One cannot run any institution, whether liberal or conservative, without confronting the problem of “dirty hands.” One is forced to balance the trade-offs involved in deciding whether or not to accept huge funding and the conditions attacked to the gift from bigoted donors.
    —Don E. Scheid

    • Richard Falk January 9, 2023 at 8:18 am #

      Don: Whether this is inevitable, or a socially constructed attitude attributable to the pervasive influence of a capitalist mentality is uncertain. Naively I had hoped Harvard transcended such a calculus. I should have known better after all my years at Princeton. Perhaps a blending over time. In any event, wishing you a heathy, happy, peaceful 2023!


      • Don E. Scheid January 10, 2023 at 9:59 am #

        Jan. 10, 2023
        Hi Richard,
        Thanks for your response to my comment. I hope the New Year finds you in good spirits and good health.
        Just as courts of law must insist on their independence from all political and economic influences, so the premier institutions of higher education should ensure their academic integrity. To paraphrase Heraclitus (fl. 504 B. C.), they should fight for their intellectual autonomy as for their city wall!
        I do think institutions of higher education should take more seriously than many of them do a sacred trust society requires for them to maintain an honest and independent intellectual environment for professors, students, and researchers.
        —Don E. Scheid

  8. Brian Gorlick January 10, 2023 at 9:36 pm #

    As they say, ‘What goes around comes around’. What Kenneth Roth, the former head of Human Rights Watch, a world renowned human rights NGO, did to Professor Richard Falk some years ago, for the same reasons he’s being turned away for a Harvard fellowship, is simply unacceptable. For human rights defenders, integrity and courage is the name of the game. Always. Good luck fighting back against Harvard, Inc. Would Roth really want to go there now? I sure hope not.

    • roberthstiver January 11, 2023 at 11:11 am #

      Thank you — perhaps that to which you allude relates to the “reservation” I expressed re Roth in my earlier comment. At this point, I recall only a considerable distaste, and thus distrust….

  9. Brian Gorlick January 10, 2023 at 11:12 pm #

    Karma works in mysterious ways. Ken Roth should now appreciate this. Meanwhile, money and government-driven ‘academic’ institutions like Harvard need to change. Their new university leadership should take note.

  10. Vladimir January 13, 2023 at 11:37 pm #

    Kenneth Roth was biased toward Iran and other targeted countries. He was the servant of the evil empire, like the judges at ICC. I am not going to be worried about Roth since he knows how to care of himself. He called Israel an apartheid when he could not deny it any longer. People were calling Israel for many years. Roth was expected to know first, but he didn’t. He had a good time at the organization.


  1. Richard Falk Reflects on the Irony of Harvard’s Decision to Withdraw Fellowship from Kenneth Roth, HRW - SHOAH - February 8, 2023

    […] (This article was originally published on Richard Falk’s blog) […]

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