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How use of apartheid characterisation against Israel had knock-on political effect

Jan 25,2023 - Last updated at Jan 25,2023

Harvard University's Kennedy School last week reversed its decision to reject a fellowship for former Human Rights Watch (HRW) director Kenneth Roth who plans to write a book about his 30-year experience on the firing lines in global battles against discrimination and abuse. The controversial decision was taken by Kennedy School dean Douglas Elmendorf who, oddly, argued that Roth was refused the post because he would not contribute to the programmes of the Kennedy School’s Carr Centre for Human Rights which had offered the fellowship to him last summer. This reasoning is faulty because Roth was closely involved with the Carr Centre since its establishment in 1999.

Elmendorf’s decision attracted widespread condemnation from the American Civil Liberties Union, hundreds of Harvard academics, graduates and students, free speech activists, and, decisively, global media which became engaged after an article entitled "Why the Godfather of Human Rights is not Welcome at Harvard," by Michael Massing was published in The Nation on January 5. This article launched a broad offensive against Elmendorf, who was urged to resign, and targeted the Kennedy School, and Harvard for failing to tackle him mid-year when he made his decision to exclude Roth.  This failure shamed and humiliated both the Kennedy School and Harvard, which are touted to be defenders of free thought and free speech.

Israel's protectors have been infuriated over HRW's April 27, 2021, report accusing Israel of apartheid, separation of populations according to race or creed and privileging one over others. This was followed by an Amnesty International Report on February 1, 2022. Neither of these global rights organisations issued their reports until Israe's own B'Tselem published on January 12, 2021, a seminal document, "A regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This is apartheid."

While this accusation had been made earlier, it had never stuck. Thanks to B'Tselem, HRW and Amnesty the practice of "apartheid", which is illegal under international law, is now associated with Israel. Media which were formerly intimidated by pro-Israeli attacks and leverage have begun to refer to Israeli apartheid. To make matters worse for Israel and its friends, the new Israeli government has affirmed the accusation.

By declaring "the Jewish people have an exclusive right on all the land" between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, Benyamin Netanyahu's hard-right government has made it clear that colonisation of the land will continue and the apartheid model will continue to be applied to Palestinians who will, systematically, be deprived of their land and their right to self-determination in their homeland. Without land, the Palestinians are homeless, stateless and without national


While the media humiliated the Kennedy School and Harvard, which forced Elmendorf to relent, use of the apartheid characterisation against Israel has had a knock-on political affect. At the end of last year, the UN General Assembly was emboldened to adopt a resolution requesting a long overdue ruling from the International Court of Justice at The Hague on the legal consequences of Israel's illegal occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. The resolution calls on the court to examine "legal consequences arising from the ongoing violation by Israel of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination" and Israel's measures "aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status" of Jerusalem. The UN secretary general was told to present a report on implementation of the resolution at the September session of the Assembly.

The resolution (77/400) was supported by 87 of the 193 assembly members with 26 voting against and 53 abstentions. All Muslim countries plus Russia and China voted in favour while

Western members were split. Israel, the US, Britain, and Germany voted against, and France and some others abstained. The Assembly acted on the recommendation of the UN Commission of Inquiry, which argued Israel has violated international law by panting 660,000 settlers in 240 colonies in the occupied territories. The Commission did not, however, say Israel has also breached internationl law by adopting apartheid.

Undaunted by the Harvard scandal, Human Rights Watch reiterated this week its charge that Israel has tightened long-standing restrictions on foreigners and expatriate Palestinians seeking to enter and live and work in the occupied West Bank. The organisation said that Israel's policies of restricting and isolating West Bank Palestinians “amount to the crimes against humanity of persecution and apartheid as HRW and major Israeli and international human rights groups have found”.

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