Jewish Leadership Failure Series: Introduction — Anti-Israel Propagandist Ken Roth at Harvard

For years, Jewish leaders failed to identify Ken Roth of Human Rights Watch as an anti-Israel propagandist — now he has a Harvard fellowship

The American Jewish community has just gotten a sound slap in the face, delivered by none other than Harvard University, while Boston’s Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) sat on its hands.

The bad news: Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government recently decided — after backtracking — to give a fellowship to Kenneth Roth, former executive director of Human Rights Watch. Roth has spent most of the last 30 years smearing Israel as perhaps the world’s most egregious human rights abuser. In report after libelous report, Human Rights Watch has accused Israel of “war crimes,” “collective punishment,” and depriving Arabs of civil rights from birth.

As Thane Rosenbaum writes in The Jewish Journal,

…When it came to watching human rights, HRW was mainly watching Israel. Throughout Roth’s 30-year stewardship, with a globe replete with inhumanity, HRW was laser focused on one nation obsessively and disproportionately — the democratic state of Israel. The whole of the Middle East and Persian Gulf run amuck with theocratic thugs and authoritarian despots. Yet, HRW had eyes for Israel.

Yet, neither now nor in the past has establishment Jewish leadership ever castigated Roth and Human Rights Watch for their vile — and highly influential — anti-Israel propaganda.

Yet, the establishment Jewish organizations never mounted a campaign to counter HRW’s decades-long barrage of slander which stoked contempt for Israel among otherwise decent people in the name of compassion for the downtrodden.

It was only Roth’s vicious, conspiratorial accusation that Harvard momentarily rescinding his fellowship was the result of “donor-driven censorship” which compelled some Jewish leaders to speak. But since not the ADL, JCPA, nor any other establishment Jewish group spent any serious effort over the years establishing the fact that Roth is a propagandist, and not a human rights advocate, it was too little too late.

Harvard’s red carpet roll-out to an anti-Semite is not a surprise given the university’s history. As Alan Dershowitz writes in his classic book The Case for Israel,

A good working definition of anti-Semitism is taking a trait or an action that is widespread, if not universal, and blaming only the Jews for it. That is what Hitler and Stalin did, and that is what former Harvard University president A. Lawrence Lowell did in the 1920s when he tried to limit the number of Jews admitted to Harvard because “Jews cheat.” When a distinguished alumnus [Judge Learned Hand] objected on the grounds that non-Jews also cheat, Lowell replied, “You’re changing the subject. I’m talking about Jews” (p. 2).

That is precisely what Roth did as the head of Human Rights Watch: he ignored real horrors so he could talk “about Jews.”

As Rosenbaum writes,

In the case of Roth, however, it is worth remembering that the organization that he once led was begun by Jews (no surprise there), and that its founder, Robert Bernstein, distanced himself from, and openly criticized the direction Roth had taken HWR in the Middle East.

It’s time for universities to start recruiting, and handing out fellowships, to the Bernsteins of the world, too.

Jews must understand that the leaders of their community and defense organizations have failed to protect them from slanderers like Roth, mostly because these leaders prioritize partisan and left-wing political agendas over Jewish interests.

How else to explain how Boston’s JCRC remained silent about Roth?

True to form, both the JCRC and Boston’s Federation, the Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP), have recently announced a “5-point plan” to fight anti-Semitism. Instead of acknowledging the real threats Jews face, it doubles down on the same mistakes Jewish leadership organizations like the ADL have been making for years. This plan, created by the same people who have failed to deal effectively with Jew-hatred in the past, is woefully inadequate.

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