APN Condemns Deadly Attack on Jewish Worshipers in Jerusalem

Americans for Peace Now (APN) is horrified and outraged by today's terrorist attack on worshippers at a Jerusalem synagogue, which left at least seven people dead and several others injured.

APN strongly condemns this attack. We stand with the people of Israel. Our hearts are with the families that have been broken by today's attack. We wish full and rapid recovery to those who were injured.

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Protest With Us- February 3, 2023

Do you support the 150,000 Israelis who took to the street on Saturday night to protest their
government’s attack on democracy? Do you wish that you could have been there?

Then join us to stand in solidarity with our Israeli sisters and brothers in protest. Together with
our partners from the Progressive Israel Network, we are gathering on Friday, February 3rd at
2:00 pm at the Embassy of Israel in Washington DC to protest the government of felons, fascists
and fundamentalists.

We are not gathering just to protest. We are standing up for the Israel that we believe in. One
that embraces democracy, justice, equality and peace. And we will not stop fighting for that
vision of a better future for the State of Israel. And we need you with us.

 

 

 

 

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A New Poll from PCPSR and IPCRM (Summary)

Palestinian and Jewish-Israeli support for a two-state solution has significantly declined in recent years, according to a new poll published this week.

The poll was conducted last month by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research and the International Program in Conflict Resolution and Mediation at Tel Aviv University.

While in general, Jewish and Arab Israelis and Palestinians prefer two states to other democratic frameworks for resolving the conflict, support for the two-state solution dropped from 43% to 33% among Palestinians and 44% to 34% among Israeli Jews between September 2020 and December 2022. 

For the first time, slightly more Israeli Jews support one undemocratic, unequal state under Israeli rule than the two-state solution.

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By Rep Jerrold Nadler, originally in Haaretz

The United States is facing enormous challenges to our democracy. I have seen them firsthand. As Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, I led two impeachments of former President Donald Trump for his administration’s attacks on our precious democracy. Despite these challenges, I have also witnessed the value of democratic institutions in safeguarding the rule of law; they have no substitute. 

Accordingly, this fight to protect and defend democracy drives my work on every issue about which I am passionate, including the U.S.-Israel relationship.

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Opinion- With the Nationalists in Power, Israel Needs a Jewish-Arab Alliance

By Jo-Ann Mort, APN Board Member (Originally in the Washington Post)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chauvinistic new Israeli government is a direct threat to democracy. But there is a countervailing trend in the country, that of a growing Arab middle class, and it offers hope for a different, more inclusive future — if Israel’s opposition parties can come together to build Jewish-Arab political power.

Over the past few decades, the number of Arab citizens of Israel (meaning those who live within the 1967 Israeli borders, excluding East Jerusalemites) has grown to one-fifth of the population, and they are claiming their rightful place in Israeli society. Though they greatly lag behind Israeli Jewish citizens in employment and educational advantage and suffer naggingly high poverty numbers, there have been some important advances. The president of the country’s largest bank is an Arab citizen. As reported by Haaretz in October 2021, there have been significant increases in the number of Arab physicians, dentists and pharmacists. Arabs number among the country’s prominent law school deans, including at the flagship Hebrew University. Arab enrollment in the country’s colleges and universities has almost doubled in the past decade, and the graduation rate for Arab students is approaching that of their Jewish counterparts. The student population at Technion, considered the MIT of Israel, is a bit more than 20 percent Arab.

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VA ACTION ALERT- Ask Your State Senator to Vote No on SB1375

State by state, across the country there has been a concerted effort to penalize those who wish to exercise their constitutionally-protected freedom of speech by boycotting, or even just maintaining their right to boycott, the state of Israel. Tomorrow, Virginia becomes ground zero in this fight when the state senate will vote on SB 1375, the Virginia Public Procurement Act.

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Protest in DC- February 3rd, 2023 (2:00-3:00pm ET)

Do you support the 150,000 Israelis who took to the street on Saturday night to protest their
government’s attack on democracy? Do you wish that you could have been there?

This weekend's protest in Tel Aviv (Flash90). Credit: Times of Israel. 

Then join us to stand in solidarity with our Israeli sisters and brothers in protest. Together with
our partners from the Progressive Israel Network, we are gathering on Friday, February 3rd at
2:00 pm at the Embassy of Israel in Washington DC to protest the government of felons, fascists
and fundamentalists.

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Legislative Round-Up- January 23, 2023

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Aryeh Deri as Metaphor (Hard Questions, Tough Answers- January 23, 2023)

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Yossi Alpher is an independent security analyst. He is the former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, a former senior official with the Mossad, and a former IDF intelligence officer. Views and positions expressed here are those of the writer, and do not necessarily represent APN's views and policy positions.

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Webinar Transcript- The Price of Criticizing Israel's Human Rights Record with Kenneth Roth

Hadar Susskind

Hello, everybody, and welcome to this Americans for Peace Now webinar. I'm thrilled to have you all with us today. I'm very excited for this conversation. I'm Hadar Susskind. I'm the President and CEO of Americans for Peace Now. So with that, I'm going to jump right in. You know, like I said, we've got a lot of people who've joined us today, which I think is, first of all, great, but it's also, you know, it's an indication of the nature of this conversation and this topic, and, frankly, the controversy around it. And what we really want to talk about, and what Ken and I are gonna get into in a moment, is, you know, not necessarily the three decades of work that he's done and people's views on it one way or another, although perhaps we'll get to some of that, but really, to the issue at hand, which is around the discussion around Israel, around criticizing Israeli action or policies around sort of acknowledging a Palestinian narrative. And, you know, it's a hot topic, and it is a timely topic. And in part, it is such because of what's going on right now with our colleague and our guest, Ken Roth. So Ken, I'm going to do the short bio, because otherwise we'd be here for a long time. So for those of you who don't know, Ken is the former executive director of Human Rights Watch, one of the world's leading international human rights organizations. Before joining Human Rights Watch in 1987, he was a federal prosecutor in New York for the Iran Contra investigation here in Washington. I'm going to really shorten just this and say, he's just acknowledged as one of the world's leading human rights experts on a broad, broad range of topics, including Israel-Palestine. And just a little bit of framing and so everyone knows exactly what we are talking about, you know, and Ken, I'm going to read this out here, and then you can tell me how it played out because this is the written report. You know, earlier this month, it became public that Ken was being denied what had been a previously arranged year-long fellowship at Harvard's Kennedy School. It was written in The Nation that a member of the school faculty had said that that was because of Ken's and Human Rights Watch's criticism of Israeli violations of human rights. There has been all kinds of discussion about the motivations for this and the pressures and this and that. There are just before this, I actually got an email from another three, three-letter organization out there, saying that people should not be, you know, building conspiracies around why this happened, etc, which is true. I agree, people should not be building conspiracies. But I do think we should be talking about why this happened. And the very real reasons and so, Ken my starting question to you is really just first of all, hello, thank you. Welcome. Now, please tell me what happened.

 

Kenneth Roth

Well, first Hadar, um, let me just thank you and Americans for Peace Now for hosting this webinar for your interest. And I'm very grateful for the opportunity to speak with you today. What happened? I mean, the short version was, last April, I announced that I would be leaving Human Rights Watch after three decades, at the end of August. And very quickly, the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, part of the Harvard Kennedy School, called me up and said, would I be interested in taking a senior fellowship with them for the year, because they knew I was going to be writing a book and this would be a good place to do that. And we talked about it for a little bit. And I agreed, it sounded like a very nice idea, I would have colleagues to kind of kick ideas around with. And so I accepted in principle. And the only outstanding issue which we all thought was a complete formality was that the Kennedy School dean had to sign off on it. And indeed, I thought it was such a formality that I actually contacted the dean and said, 'Look, I'm going to be there in September, we should just get to know each other,' and we set up a Zoom call. So in July, we had a very nice half hour chat. And then it got weird, right at the end. He asked me, 'Do you have any enemies?' Now, you know, for me, this is just such an odd question, because I've got tons of enemies. I know we just met but you know, come on. So, he should know, Human Rights Watch. We criticize governments, governments don't like it. They hate us, you know, many of them do. And so I noted that the Chinese government and the Russian government had both personally imposed sanctions on me. I noticed that the Saudi government and the Rwandan government had been particularly vociferous and attacking me. But you know, I had an inkling what he was driving at. So I also mentioned, 'And the Israeli government doesn't like me.' And that turned out to be the kiss of death. Because two weeks later, I received this phone call from the Carr Center, and they very sheepishly had to report that Dean Douglas Elmendorf, the Kennedy School Dean had vetoed my fellowship. And the reason that he gave to Kathryn Sikkink, a very respected human rights professor affiliated with the Kennedy School. The reason he told her was because of my, and Human Rights Watch's, criticism of Israel. So those are the facts. Now, the, you know, the questions like: What drove him to this? And I should say right up, you know, we don't exactly know. He doesn't have any history of personally speaking out on the Israel-Palestine issue. I don't think this is a question of personal animosity, nobody is suggesting that. Instead, what he told Mathias Risse, who's the faculty director of the Carr Center, is that people who mattered to him, objected to my fellowship. Who are those people? Now, this is where, you know, Michael Massing, the journalist, his long article in The Nation comes in. And I should say that, you know, Michael is just speculating because we don't know who the people who mattered to Elmendorf work. But Michael outlined that there were a number of big donors to the Kennedy School, who are also big supporters of Israel. You know, did Elmendorf ask them? Did he, you know, surmise just assume what they were gonna think? We don't really know. But the idea that, you know, somebody like this influenced his decision. I mean, it's at least implicit in his answer, you know, people who mattered. So I just don't know any other plausible explanation. And interestingly, you know, despite all this media hype about this, you know, despite all this speculation that this was donor-driven influence, the Kennedy School spokesperson told The Harvard Crimson that they don't quarrel with any of the facts that had been presented. So, you know, what do you make of that? So I, you know, we just don't know, but, you know, for me, given at least the very serious possibility that this is donor driven, undermining of academic freedom, I think it's incumbent upon Harvard, to set the record straight. And I say this, you know, at Human Rights Watch, I'm familiar with donors who want to use their economic clout to influence our reporting, and we just didn't go there. You know, if somebody wanted to protect their favorite country, then Human Rights Watch was not the place for them. And I just accepted that, you know, that was the cost of living up to our principles, you know, we don't take that kind of compromise money. So, Harvard, you know, the wealthiest university in the world, could afford to do the same thing for academic freedom. It could afford to say, as a matter of principle, donors are not allowed to use their financial influence to compromise intellectual independence, to undermine academic freedom. And, you know, a simple statement like that would go a long way towards salvaging this situation. But currently, the message people take is that, you know, one, donors can compromise academic freedom, and two, that certain topics, like criticism of Israel, will get you in trouble. You know, that if you take on criticizing Israel, you risk harming your academic career. And, you know, here, I don't pretend that this is what happened to me personally, because, you know, I'm privileged, I have plenty of options. I mean, this is not harming my future by any means. But that's not the case for younger scholars, or younger academics, for students. And in the message, the lesson taught by Harvard is, don't touch Israel. Because if you come out critically, you're going to compromise your future. That is a horrible lesson for Harvard to be teaching. 

 

Hadar Susskind

It is. I mean, there's no question about that. So there's two, two pieces I want to dig into a little bit here. One, like you said, you know, his response to that people who matter to him weighed in on this. Again, I think it is reasonable and logical to assume that those might be donors. I do want to note that it also might not be in that it could be other people who matter to him whether that is folks directly connected with the Government of Israel, plenty of whom have Kennedy School connections, or, you know, other people in the political realm. But I actually think, and I want to talk about this for a minute just because the push back against some of the I don't know it's pushing in so many directions, the pushing back against you're pushing back. Right there are people out there who are saying, 'Oh, this is feeding conspiracy theories about you know, Jewish money and power' and 'You know, shady donors are doing things.' And in my view, I want to say that I actually think it doesn't matter very much if it's donors or not. It could be donors, it could also be other people who have other kinds of influence. And, to me, that doesn't make a tremendous difference. What makes a difference is the impact that it's having and what you were talking about, but the message that Harvard is sending, and they're not alone in this, that even when you've been critical of the Chinese government, or the Russian government, or the Rwandan or you know, the rest of the countries that you mentioned, and many that you've written and spoken about over the years, what seems to be the third rail here, the thing that that made, the difference is being critical of Israeli government policy. And it's, I mean, we're in an interesting moment, we know what the government of Israel is right now. You know, but even that question of what does it mean to be a supporter of Israel or a supporter of the Israeli government? Because there are, of course, many supporters of Israel I know, who would, you know, not not have weighed in, in opposition to your position there. I mean, I'm curious whether you think there's, you've been doing this for a while, and I know, this isn't the first time you've come up against this issue specifically. Do you think this moment feels different to you?

 

Kenneth Roth

I mean, in a sense, I mean, I think it's different in the sense that the Israeli government, as we all know, is moving in a, you know, a far-right direction. And, you know, some of the basic institutions of democracy are now suddenly in jeopardy, you know, such as judicial review of Knesset action. So, I mean, in that sense, sure, it's different. But I have faced this kind of pressure for decades. You know, and I, I mean, I learned early on that financially, it didn't matter to Human Rights Watch, because, you know, the people who valued defending Israel above everything else, were just never going to be Human Rights Watch donors. Fine, you know, and whereas those who wanted a, you know, a fact-based, principled approach to treat Israel the same as we treat everybody else, they were satisfied with what we did. And so we lost very few donors by just doing what we do, because, you know, the ones who really were going to reject us for criticizing Israel never funded us to begin with, so there's just no loss. So I, you know, I just live with this, and the way I would always respond, and the way I tried to guide the organization, is just to make sure that we were, you know, factually accurate, and principled in our application of international human rights and humanitarian law. And I, you know, made that a personal concern. But when I was satisfied that we were, I was comfortable, you know, I'd let the chips fall where they lay, and it really didn't hurt us financially in any significant way.

 

Hadar Susskind

And so, to come back for a second to the broader look, again, at the other governments, China, Russia, you know, everybody else, I'm curious in, in your experience of this whether the you know, we've seen other scholars, other organizations get pushed back on by those governments, whether the Israel experience is, is unique or different. And I say that because I think, you know, there's a distinction between somebody, whether it's a government or activists or whoever it is looking at, whether it's Human Rights Watch's work, or anybody else saying, 'Okay, I disagree.' Right, 'I have a different perspective. Even I disagree with some of these facts.' Fine. There are lots of things out there that I disagree with. I think in many cases, there isn't what we see as there isn't the intensity of the attack, to say that my disagreement means that this is illegitimate and should not be should not be allowed. And have you seen, you know, I'm just curious, for me, I spent my life and my, you know, in the weeds in the Israel-Palestine and Middle East space, whether you see that same sort of sentiment in other areas, or is it different?

 

Kenneth Roth

Well, I mean, we're attacked by lots of different governments. As I noted, I think what makes Israel different is that I can't think of another government that has a comparably organized constituency of partisans that just have taken it upon themselves to defend the government, regardless of what it does. And, you know, there are I mean, obviously, the Russians have their troll factory, you know, the, you know, the Chinese, the Saudis, the Ethiopians. I mean, you run into kind of popular support, but nothing is organized as some of these little groups that defend the Israeli government. And, you know, what I have in mind are these groups. They, you know, they all have these deceptively neutral sounding names. I mean, they never call themselves, you know, the "Israeli government support group," you know, it's always good to have some bland name. But then they never criticize the Israeli government. They criticize anybody who criticizes the Israeli government, and they charge the critics with bias even though they epitomize bias because they only do one thing, and that's defend Israel. Um, I can't think of anybody else like that, you know? And if you know what's going on, it's easy to dismiss them. I mean, these are not serious groups, but they don't live off people who know what's going on. They live off either people who don't know what's going on, or people who don't want to believe that Israel does anything wrong. Or also just journalists who, you know, are still sort of stuck in this, 'Oh, we have to report on both sides.' And so well, you know, they classify Human Rights Watch, rather than as an impartial observer. They say, well, you're the critic, so let's find a defender. And then they go to one of these, you know, radical groups. So they, you know, get much more airtime than they should. There's nothing like that, that kind of organized support group, for another government.

 

Hadar Susskind

And, you know, you said, they're not serious groups that I mean, there's certainly no shortage of small ridiculous groups out there. But there are also groups that, you know, whether one considers themselves serious or not, are certainly significant. Who do, first of all, have spoken up about you and your work in this case, but we certainly take on this issue all the time. And one of the things that, you know, some some of the folks on have heard me probably probably say this before, that actually surprised me over the last two years, how much of my time and our organizational time we spent dealing with what we call the weaponization of antisemitism, right, that it's not just disagreement or criticism of a policy, but rather, you know, somebody comes out and says, criticizes a particular Israeli action or Israeli policy, and, you know, those groups you were talking about, and others, you know, are quick to attack them and not attack them on a policy front, but just simply just call them an anti-Semite and say that, that, you know, this is all antisemitism. You know, some some of those groups I've seen over the last week in and around your case, and Harvard sort of dancing around that, again, not, per se calling, not calling you an anti-Semite, in this moment, but saying that anybody who's criticizing Harvard is an anti-Semite, because they're talking about conspiracies. What have you been hearing about in this last, you know, few weeks? And how have you experienced that overall?

 

Kenneth Roth

Well, first of all Hadar, some of them do call me antisemitic, you know, or they use Jew hatred, which sometimes it's a preferred synonym. But yeah, I mean, it's wacko. But they do that. So I mean, I just kind of slack that off, because I mean, if that's what they're going to call me fine, but you know, I can live with that kind of crazy accusation. But I think the group here I mean, most of these are a little, you know, mini groupettes, you know, but the one bigger one is the Anti-Defamation. And, you know, ADL, I mean, again, it's a classic neutral name, and it doesn't really say what it does. But it is a bigger organization. And Jonathan Greenblatt has weaponized criticism, you know, the term antisemitism to silence criticism. And I want to make kind of two points there. I mean, one is that I personally have been lambasted when I noted that incidents of antisemitism, sometimes parallel, Israeli Government conduct. And so if you find, you know, the latest bombardment of Gaza, there is like, predictably, a surge of antisemitic incidents around the world. And to point that out, is a taboo. I'm just, you know, vehemently attacked, if I point that out. And you're never allowed to suggest that the Israeli government, which is supposed to be the custodian of the Jewish people, the savior of the Jewish people, can never be harming the Jewish people. You're just not allowed to say that. But the Anti-Defamation League is very freely charging that critics of Israel, people who report on Israeli government violations, are themselves fueling antisemitism. So they kind of want to have it both ways. You know, you can't say the Israeli government's conduct has anything to do with the incidents of antisemitism. And obviously, it's, you know, antisemitism has an autonomous life of its own there are many, many anti-Semites who don't need any excuse. But there is, you know, there is a correlation between Israeli government conduct and the prevalence of antisemitism. You can't say that, but they feel completely free to say 'But if you report on Israeli violations, you're feeling antisemitism.' So, you know, there's a certain logic there. But the deeper concern is that antisemitism is a serious problem. It is a vibrant threat today to Jews around the world. And what I worry about is that if people begin to see the charge of antisemitism as just a ploy to silence critics of the Israeli government, it cheapens the concept of antisemitism. And the last thing we need is for people to say 'What do you mean that's antisemitic? Are you just trying to silence another Israeli Government critic.' You know that devaluation of the concept of antisemitism is dangerous. You know, it may, in the short term, help the Israeli government fend off criticism. But it hurts the Jewish people around the world by weakening this concept that should be strengthened and attacked as the threat that it is. So that's what worries me and the Anti- Defamation League, more than anybody else, you know, they really are supposed to be the foremost opponent of antisemitism. They should understand this, they shouldn't be the ones leading the charge to weaponize the term antisemitism to silence criticism of Israel.

 

Hadar Susskind

Well, I mean, I'd say, you know, Ken particularly in these last few years, unfortunately, where we've seen such a dramatic upsurge in antisemitism, and particularly violent antisemitism in the United States, it I think has has changed the feeling and the views of the American Jewish community. And, you know, often in the past, we would sit here and you were talking about, you know, antisemitism in the Jewish community globally, people would nod along because they thought you meant, you know, Hungary, or here or there or something, they did not feel that most American Jews did not feel that in their own day-to-day lives in a way that I think people very, very much do now. And that's one of the main pieces that we talk about is there is both a need to be able to engage critically with Israeli policies and actions and agree and disagree with things as we do with our own government here in the United States. And there's a very real need to address the growing threat of antisemitism. And conflating those two things and putting those two things together, I think is very damaging on both fronts. So I'm gonna back it up for a second, I've got a question that came to me. You know, one of the things that you or Human Rights Watch have, I think, long been accused of, frankly, it's probably the right term is being, you know, being obsessed with Israel. And, you know, how much has been written about Israel, how much work is done about Israel? So you frankly, already mentioned a number of other countries and areas in the world that that Human Rights Watch has worked on and focused on. But do you think, first of all, do you think that there's something unique in terms of Israel and its human rights violations or its abuses? Or do you think that it does get extra attention that other countries don't?

 

Kenneth Roth

Well, I mean, in terms of human rights, like it's one of 100 countries we're working on, you know, so, I mean, you know, what's the percentage? I mean, even if it was 2%, rather than 1%, it's still a tiny percentage, you know, so to say, that we're obsessed is really, you know, I mean, I'm amazed how many people think that, like, all I do is talk about Israel, you know, all I do is tweet about Israel. And I'm just like, okay, you know, you want to go to the website, like, read through my Twitter feed, you know, and, and I mean, I get this from people who say, you know, why you're taking China so much? Why are you talking to Russia so much? You know, why I'm not so much recently. But, you know, for, for years, I was accused of being fixated on Syria, which I sort of was, you know, but it was, you know, it varies. But, you know, the idea that we're obsessed with Israel is just, you know, wacko. And just go to the website. That's the easiest, like, just, you know, go look at the facts. But the, and, I mean, there are institutions like take the UN Human Rights Council, you know, which does, you know, it has its own agenda item for Israel-Palestine, which is the only situation where there is just one agenda item. And it has more resolutions on Israel than anything else. So you can find this disproportionate focus. Now, Human Rights Watch has actually tried to address that. You know, I mean, one of the reasons is that the US traditionally vetoes Security Council resolutions. So, you know, the Security Council isn't a forum member, which is why everybody goes to the Human Rights Council. The only exception was at the end of Obama's term when he allowed one resolution to come forward on the legality of the settlements. But even within the council, we sort of said, well, okay, why don't you instead of using this, you know, agenda item seven, which is only about Israel-Palestine, what is resolutions were introduced under just a regular agenda item? And what if instead of having a bunch of resolutions, what if we just have one consolidated resolution under an ordinary agenda item? Would you the United States, would you Germany, would you know, the traditional Western governments would just support that one? And the answer was no. You know, so, you know, on one hand, yes, there's a disproportionate number of resolutions and Israel. On the other hand, that's not what's going on in terms of the failure of certain governments to be willing to criticize Israel.

 

Hadar Susskind

Again, you know, you're talking about having been, in fact, maybe obsessed with Syria. I mean, I think there are, you know, many of the people who are on this and I start with myself, as somebody who spends my day-to-day on this, it's easy to always see where everybody is looking at, talking about, writing about focused on Israel-Palestine issue, even for people for whom it is one of 100, or one part of what they do. Let's come back a little bit, we started off talking about Harvard talking about what's going on there. I just, again, I've been following the story. But is there a resolution to this? Is this done? Is there still a process? Is there any? I've seen some folks who I know, you know, writing letters to the dean there, etc. But is there either process as far as you're concerned, or, as far as other people or organizations are concerned around Harvard?

 

Kenneth Roth

Well, I mean, there's no formal process. But people are pressing for some action by Harvard, that shows that they're not so willing to compromise academic freedom as to try to penalize critics of Israel. And they could give me my fellowship back, you know, I could take up on for the second semester, I'd be happy to do that. I'd be happy with the statement from the Harvard president, you know.

 

Hadar Susskind

Would you be happy to do it if they called you up and said, 'Okay, sorry.'

 

Kenneth Roth

Well, I would do it. I mean, what I would want, frankly, is that, plus the statement of principle, and it's, I've been trying to stress, this is not about me, you know, this is not a devastating consequence for me, you know, I have other options. But I, it's become important because it's, you know, it's so visible. And, it's currently sending a disastrous signal. So I'd like them to address that I would, I'd be perfectly happy if they came out and, you know, forget my fellowship, and just gave a strong statement of principle, that they are not going to penalize people for criticizing Israel, they're not going to allow donors or other people who matter to them to undermine academic freedom. A statement like that coming from the Harvard president Larry Bacow, would be very important. But so far, I mean, you know, Dean Douglas Elmendorf from the Kennedy School has basically just, you know, stuck his head in the sand, he's paralyzed, he's hoping the storm blows over. You know, he basically is hoping people forget before the students come back to Harvard after their holiday break this coming Monday, you know, good luck with that. 

 

Hadar Susskind

I'm guessing that's not going to happen.

 

Kenneth Roth

And, you know, the Harvard president is, you know, basically, all I've seen from him so far is just, you know, platitudes. So you know, 'I uphold academic freedom, I believe in, you know, different points of view,' but not connecting that to what just happened. So they're just like abstract statements that are disconnected from reality. So that's not good enough. You know, so there has to be some repudiation of what Elmendorf has done. Now, people are trying to get him fired. You know, it's, I understand that he's up for renewal, but not until I think, next academic year, I'd be shocked if he gets renewed at this stage. But you know, that's not going to solve the problem, either just sort of quietly letting them walk away. I mean, what we need is a reaffirmation of principle. And I think that's gotta come from, you know, from either the current Harvard precedent, or, you know, it could be Claudine Gay the new president who's beginning I think, in June, but you know, she's technically not in charge right now. So it really is Bacow, who should be doing this, and he is trying to hide, trying to settle for platitudes, hoping people don't, you know, and nobody subjects themselves to a conversation with a journalist, you know, they all operate through their spokespeople who put out these kind of meaningless statements. And and I mean, journalists are getting frustrated with that, understandably, because why are they hiding? What do they have to hide? What's going on here? You know, and the more Harvard, you know, tries to run away from these questions, the more people suspect the worst.

 

Hadar Susskind

Yeah. Interesting. You know, you mentioned something about, you know, penalties. And obviously, the message that this is sending, you know, this is taking place in context, as we talked about around the weaponization of antisemitism. One of the things that's been the focus of that is, of course, the use of this, the IHRA definition, which, you know, organizations that have been championing it have been saying, 'Oh, it's this great, this great thing we don't, it doesn't need to be law, we don't need to be codified.' And yet, at the same moment, they're out there, literally lobbying everything from the federal government to state and local governments and universities and, you know, local swim teams to codify the IHRA resolution. Today, there's actually a vote in the Virginia Senate in the Judiciary Committee. I believe it's the first time so it's an it's it's codified in the IHRA resolution, but it's the first time that it actually has penalties this bill, so people could under this bill, should it pass which we are opposing and I certainly hope it will not it could actually penalize people. It remains unclear if there are certainly civil penalties, but possibly even criminal penalties under the IHRA definition. And, you know, I think part of the reason why your situation has struck such a note is that it's not. It's not a standalone, right? This isn't just like, oh, somebody doesn't like you, and this happened. And that's, that's too bad. It's this moment that we're in, of trying to shut down any criticism. And I'll say, you know, again, to go back to something I was saying a little bit earlier, like, you can disagree with the criticism, I think, but we're functioning in this political space now, where the operative goal seems to be not to say somebody is wrong, but to to disable their, you know, to get rid of their ability to say those things at all. I think Ori posted in, in the questions over there something about whether or not you think this, this government to take it back to the Israeli government. You know, you've been doing this for a while, you know, is this government different from previous governments? Because the idea of, you know, having a ministry on Hasbara, and you know, this international messaging efforts, etc, is, of course, not new. But does this feel different to you, whether it's specifically this government or last few years?

 

Kenneth Roth

Well, you brought up a few different points there. So let me just address them. I mean, first with the IHRA definition. You know, the problem is really how it's being used. Because the IHRA definition, you know, talks about demonizing Israel or holding a difference in a double standard, almost invites people to say, 'Oh, you're being biased, therefore, you're antisemitic.' You know, it. And while, you know, obviously, theoretically, somebody can criticize Israel from a background of antisemitism. But this goes a lot further, this, this really almost invites an analysis, like, are you, you know, looking a little bit too much on Israel, are you treating it a little bit differently, you're antisemitic, you know, and so it's, it's encouraging the weaponization of the concept of antisemitism to silence criticism of Israel. That's really dangerous. And that's why I really prefer the Jerusalem Declaration, which is, you know, much more explicit about not doing that. Now, in terms of, you know, where is this government? I mean, it's a brand new government, I don't see it particularly focused on external communication at this stage. You know, it seems to be much more focused on undermining Israel's democracy, you know, maybe expanding the settlements. So I, you know, I can't really, yeah. So I mean, I can't speak to its, you know, its messaging to the world, I think it's too early to know if that's any different. It's its threats to democracy in Israel, to Palestinians in the occupied territories, is, is much more pronounced than has been the case recently, although even there, we shouldn't overstate it, because, you know, this has been a trend going on for a long time. And, and, you know, it was the, you know, utter demise of the peace process. That is, you know, part of what I think has led the human rights community to say that, this kind of, you know, radical, oppressive discrimination that we see in the West Bank, where, you know, you have these, you know, kind of well developed settlements, for Israelis living under civil law with all the rights of being an Israeli citizen. And right next door and Area C of the West Bank, you have, you know, Palestinians, you can't even add a bedroom into their home without it being demolished and who, you know, have to travel on special roads and go through checkpoints. And, you know, it has, you know, all the elements of the oppressive discrimination that constitute apartheid. And the only reason I think people didn't call it that until now, or until recently, is because of the peace process defense, you know, people say, Well, yeah, it's bad. But don't worry, you know, there's the peace process. And when we have peace, it'll be better. And what we've recognized is, you know, the peace process is going nowhere. This government in particular is determined on doing all it can to undermine any prospect for a two state solution. You know, the only real option of peace at this stage seems to be a one state solution, or maybe some kind of confederation. But it's, you know, we're moving away from the two state option. And in that circumstance, if you look at what there is today, it's apartheid, it's hard to say anything else about it, you know, so it's, and this is not just the new Netanyahu government, it's also the old Netanyahu government. And, and even before that, I mean, this has been a trend in Israel for a long time. But it's being reinforced right now. Certainly not reversed.

 

Hadar Susskind

I mean, I think we're all we're all in agreement, that it's not a good moment, and that, you know, the peace process that I know many people who are on this, on this Zoom with us right now, I've you know, I've been involved in this, going back to Oslo and frankly, before that as well. I mean, I think it is an open and sort of unknowable question. We've certainly moved further away from a two state solution. I don't know that that is just my personal view that that makes a one state version the more viable option. I think we're simply in a moment where we're unfortunately far away from a peaceful solution to this conflict, regardless of what it looks like at the end. One of the questions that I think comes up for me listening to what you were just talking about is, and it relates to, you know, that peace process, sort of defense and what you're talking about is, you know, it, has there been a change over the years, do you think from the focus in terms of looking at human rights issues, from the focus and looking at the occupation to also looking at, you know, what's going on within Israel proper? And and do you think that, well, I mean, I can ask you, on behalf of Human Rights Watch, I think, but I will say more broadly for the community, you know, that do you think that that that feeling that if we want to call it a realization of the, the perpetual occupation, was there a flip, was there a moment where the human rights community said, 'Okay, we need to address this differently now?'

 

Kenneth Roth

I mean no, I mean, in terms of, you know, looking at domestic issues, I mean, these are coming to the forefront right now, because of Netanyahu's attacks on some of the key checks and balances that are central to democracy. You know, and so they are suddenly coming to the floor, there is very serious, systematic discrimination against Palestinians within Israel. And, I've gone on tours of different Palestinian communities, kind of comparing them to the Jewish communities next door. And I mean, it's a very illustrative process. So there is much to be done. But I don't want to equate that by any means, with what's happening in the West Bank, East Jerusalem or Gaza. It's very different. So, you know, it's in terms of, you know, what brought the human rights community to kind of recognize the apartheid. And we were discussing, I mean, I'm not, you know, I'm not gonna pretend that we each autonomously came to this. And we, we did talk about ourselves, you know, and the group that really led the effort was B'Tselem, you know, the Israeli group, which was the first, I guess Palestinian group before they called it, but you know B'Tselem came out with its report, before Human Rights Watch came out with our report. But we were all talking. There was one stage where we thought we might try to do it together, but we were on different timeframes. It wasn't really feasible. And our analysis was slightly different. But it was similar logic, it was just that we couldn't justify not calling it apartheid, given the facts on the ground, given what the legal standard of apartheid is, by saying, 'Oh, don't worry, there's the peace process,' it just wasn't credible anymore. And we all kind of came to that conclusion, roughly along the same period.

 

Hadar Susskind

We're going down the apartheid rabbit hole a little bit here. But if you'll, if you'll indulge us, somebody just asked, and I think it's useful. You know, one of the things when the Human Rights Watch report came out, or B'Tselem or anybody else's, you know, the response, of course, literally from the government of Israel was 'This is just antisemitism,' and certainly from many of the various organizations. And one of the things that went along with that is, you know, this sort of like, very, I thought, sort of condescending like 'Israel's not South Africa, don't be ridiculous' comment as if anybody who used the word apartheid was implying that it was exactly the same as South Africa, which clearly is not the case. But maybe you can explain for the folks a little bit, you know, when Human Rights Watch uses that word as it relates to Israel or the occupied territories, you know, what does that mean, versus the common sort of perception of apartheid in South Africa?

 

Kenneth Roth

Okay, well, let me address both of those points. I mean, first, I mean, you're right, the Israeli government, when when Human Rights Watch issued our report, they actually had nothing factual or legal to say, you know, it was a really well done report it was, you know, factually copious. The legal analysis was right on, they couldn't find anything wrong. So they resorted to name calling. They call them, you know, biased, antisemitic, the usual things. I took that as a victory, you know, if all they could do was name call, then it must have been a pretty good report. You know, so I was happy with that. We are explicit in the report that we are not making an historical analogy to South Africa. And that's not the point of the report. Instead we're applying two international treaties that define the crime of apartheid. One is the UN Convention Against Apartheid. The other is the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. And so, this is a legal definition. And we apply that law. We are not making a historical analogy. And the law is actually quite clear that when you have, you know, in an attempt to dominate combined with this sort of oppressive discrimination that we see, that is apartheid, and we go through that analysis in great, great detail. So I encourage people to read the report, but to say, 'Oh, this is not South Africa' is not what the reports are about.

 

Hadar Susskind

Right. And again, I think that response, you know, fits very well into what we see as the unfortunate response from a lot of the you can't criticize anything. Again, I think, even for people and there are I'm sure many people on this call, who, frankly, are very uncomfortable with the use of the word apartheid as it applies to whether you're talking about the occupied territories or Israel. And I think there are people who probably feel strongly that they disagree. And that's fine, as far as I'm concerned there again. But I think it's important to understand that the, you know, the pushback, we've heard from folks on the right, saying, Oh, it's not South Africa is not frankly, a really legitimate concept or argument.

 

Kenneth Roth

If I could just come back to Harvard for a moment. I mean, what we're discussing here is, you know, precisely what a leading foreign policy school should talk about. Because, you know, one, the question is, so what exactly is going on in Israel-Palestine? Two, you know, how should the US government respond to it? I mean, these are central foreign policy questions. And to say, well, Harvard students are only entitled to hear from the 10 Israeli officials who are brought to the Kennedy School every year, but not somebody like me, who has a more independent perspective, that robs them of, you know, a real opportunity to hear different perspectives. And that's not how you train, you know, tomorrow's governmental leaders. So, you know, there's a cost to this limitation of academic freedom. It's not just an abstract matter. It robs the students of the ability to take on, you know, some of the most urgent issues of our time.

 

Hadar Susskind

I'm curious, because, you know, we're in touch with a lot of different folks and hear about things as they're popping up on different campuses. After this became public, have you heard from other academics, other people about similar experiences?

 

Kenneth Roth

Yes. I mean, I think the one that's probably best known happened two years ago, at the University of Toronto, which many people call the Harvard of Canada, although I've had people from McGill who challenge me on that. But let's say it's one of the two top schools in Canada, and there was a woman who had been tentatively named to head a human rights center at the law school. And what evidently happened is that a major donor didn't like her criticism of Israel, and she was never offered the job. And it became, you know, a huge scandal. And many Canadian academics started boycotting the University of Toronto, because of this, you know, blatant restriction of academic freedom. So, I mean, that was another reasonably publicized case. Lots of people are coming up to me saying, oh, there were this, these, you know, miscellaneous other cases, too. I think that it is a broad problem. Usually, we don't hear about it. But it's, you know, it's, frankly, all the more reason that, you know, my cases attracted attention for, you know, reasons that have to do with my background. We have tried to make the most of it. Because if, despite the spotlight, in my case, Harvard gets away with penalizing criticism of Israel and undermining academic freedom, you know, how is anybody else going to do any better. So this is, you know, a big learning moment. And Harvard's can either get the lesson right or is going to get the lesson wrong. And we just don't know yet it's going to come down to the Harvard president, who is trying to hide. That's where we are.

 

Hadar Susskind

I think, to your point, you know, the place where this is most dangerous is all of the unseen, it's the junior academics and the professors who are trying to get tenure and the people who are want to write, you know, write a book, but are trying to build their career, who are never going to do it because of these fears, because of the fact that, you know, speaking up on these topics is becoming so incredibly politically charged. And, again, I think it is, frankly, reflective of the fact that we've seen this issue, which, you know, for so long, whether it was ever really true or not for so long. People talked about, you know, supporting Israel as a nonpartisan issue or bipartisan. And just over the years, we've seen it become politicized in our actual politics in Congress. Now, certainly, you can't, you know, you can't find one Republican who aligns with any of the views that we believe or espouse right now. And that wasn't always true. But I think we're seeing it go beyond just politics into academia into so many different places. And you know, we all hear about it from students. I've got a son who's a child on campus right now, who talks about, you know, the fact that most the people, he talks to most of the people that he engages with, they just have one view, that's the only thing that they've ever heard, and that opposing views aren't considered, you know, not my not my perspective, or even something they disagree with opposing views are considered, you know, heretic and cannot be said aloud. And it is, it's incredibly damaging.

 

Kenneth Roth

Absolutely. And it's at a moment when Israel is taking a dangerous turn. And we need free debate. It's becoming harder and harder to do that. And that's a problem. Harvard should be leading on this, not setting a negative example.

 

Hadar Susskind

Yeah. So, you know, I'm just looking through the questions a little bit, and there are a lot of variants of, what can we do? And it's not an easy question, because frankly, I don't even know individually, folks are talking about what they can do about, you know, your case and Harvard? My guess is probably not all that much. But what can we do in the broader sense of bringing this issue of academic freedom to light and really raising our voices in support of, you know, the ability to speak out on these issues without, and I want to emphasize it, just because I know people have a range of views around just honestly, some of the things you've said, but like, without agreement, right? We're not having this webinar today and Ken, no, no, no offense, because I agree with every single thing you've ever said or written. That's not the point. And I don't think that should be the right line. We're having this discussion, because we should be able to have the discussion, and we should be able to share our views and speak our points when it comes to Israeli policy and Israeli action, or the politics around it without having that be shut down. So do you have any thoughts for folks on the webinar about the, what can we do?

 

Kenneth Roth

Yeah, well, look, I mean, and the narrow question, I mean, by all means, you know, right, to Lawrence Bacow, you know, its president@harvard.edu, you know, express your views. But the broader question, I mean, I do think this is a matter of, you know, academic freedom or, but more broadly, freedom of expression. You know, one important thing to do is to be principled, even in the case of people we disagree with. So if I'm going to assume that this group here is, you know, a relatively liberal group, defend the rights of people to, you know, vehemently defend Israel, you know, I don't don't, you know, deny them the ability to voice their views. You can disagree with them. But that's very different from censoring them. And, and I, you know, I think that those sorts of examples where you stand up for something you don't believe in, is a way of really stressing the importance of free expression. And when you do have something as divisive as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we need to enable, even, you know, strong opinions on the other side, to be expressed, that's the only hope we're ever going to have of finding some kind of peaceful resolution.

 

Hadar Susskind

Two quick little things, and then I've got a bigger question. So first of all, somebody just asked for you to repeat the Harvard president's email address. Again, if you don't mind.

 

Kenneth Roth

It's just president@harvard.edu. I don't think it's super personal. He seems to use it.

 

Hadar Susskind

And then there was another piece that popped up that I'll just answer really quickly, which asks, What is the evidence, if there is any, that donors are related to the Harvard decision? And again, for those of you who perhaps were not here, when I can share the story at the beginning, the dean of the Harvard Kennedy School and can correct me if I get this wrong, said that people who matter to him weighed in, in opposition to his fellowship. So as we discussed, it's not illogical to think that that might mean donors. It's also very clearly not necessarily limited to donors, there could be other people who matter to him also, who weighed in. But so I don't want to speak for you, but certainly, from my perspective, we're not we're not saying that that was clearly just donor pressure, although it seems reasonable, that that is at least part of the answer.

 

Kenneth Roth

And the truth is, whether it was donors or not, it was a compromise of intellectual independence. You know, they shouldn't be rejecting academic appointments because of criticism of Israel. That's what it comes down to, right, were donors behind it with somebody else, I don't know. But the principle is the same.

 

Hadar Susskind

Yeah. And I think to those, you know, I mean, you mentioned ADL by name, but others are out there who are talking about this as are we talking about conspiracies and donors. That is not the point here. The point is the compromise of academic freedom and other people want to go down the rabbit hole of who might those people who matter to them be, great, but I I agree with you that that's not the important part. So the other question I was going to ask is, you know, I guess it goes back to the questions of human rights violations since human rights violations, you know, are published publishing reports doing this research on the ground showing what's happening for a group like ours, which is not doing that side of the work that is, you know, that is activists that are people who are civically engaged. What can we do to help bring light to those to help support those efforts?

 

Kenneth Roth

Yeah. I mean Hadar, the premise of you know, human rights advocacy and defense of human rights, is that violations of human rights are embarrassing. And the reason for that is that everybody pretends to respect human rights, you know, that has become just a basic element of a government's legitimacy. And so if you can demonstrate that a government in reality is falling short, that discrepancy between the pretense and the reality is embarrassing, it's shameful, it's delegitimizing and the stronger the spotlight, the more pressure can be put on the government to close that gap to bring the practice more in line. So that's what this is all about. And, you know, Human Rights Watch in our colleague organizations, we will do the factual investigations, the reporting, but we need to help in getting word out and sort of intensifying that spotlight. And social media is key for that. I mean, I, I'm just looking at the number of people attacking me on social media, you know, and join the fray. You know, if you think that I'm on the right side, step in and say something, you know, because there certainly is an organized constituency on the other side that's attacking me. But these, you know, I think we know that, you know, if he's asked how people are influenced, they're much more likely to be influenced by the views of their friends and acquaintances than by some third party institution. So social media matters, you know, what you personally say, in your network among your friends, that matters. So I would encourage you to speak out and to, you know, when issues come up, when you have an opinion, express that opinion, that is helpful in, you know, hopefully pushing governments in a more rights respecting direction. 

 

Hadar Susskind

Thank you. So we only have a few more minutes left, I want to wrap up. Before we do that, though, I couldn't help but notice, you said you're working on a book, you want to give us a little teaser?

 

Kenneth Roth

Sure. I have been distracted a little bit in the last few days. But the idea of the book is really to explain how it is a relatively small group of people, my colleagues at Human Rights Watch, how we move governments around the world. And so what I'm doing is explaining the methodology, I'm taking each element of it, explaining the strategy behind that, and then illustrating it with my personal experiences and my colleagues' experiences. And so it's really going to be, you know, I mean, part memoir, but part primmer, on how you do this kind of work, which is applicable, I think, not narrowly within, you know, not only within the human rights realm, but also, you know, more broadly, because the methodology that we use this, you know, investigative exposure shaming process, can work, whenever there's a moral framework that institutions or individuals fall short of, it's not limited to international human rights standards. So I do think it's going to have much broader applicability to anybody who wants to try to enforce a moral position.

 

Hadar Susskind

Great. Well, I look forward to seeing it.

 

Kenneth Roth

And look forward to being done.

 

Hadar Susskind

I bet you do. Ken, thank you for taking the time to be with us today. I appreciate it. And again, I want to say, you know, and thank you for all the work. And I'm going to say it out loud again. And I want to be really clear, it's not a disclaimer, I say thank you for all the work even when I might disagree with some of it. Because I think that's how this should work. We should all be doing this. We should all be engaging. We don't need to agree on every detail and every piece. But we need to be working for the elimination of human rights abuses. We need to be working for peace, we need to be working for a better future. And I have no doubt that you are committed to doing that. So thank you very much. I appreciate it. And thank you again to everyone for joining us and we will make sure to share the recording from this. So, so long. 

 

Kenneth Roth

Thanks, Hadar.

 

Hadar Susskind

Bye Ken.

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