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Former HRW chief denied Harvard fellowship over 'anti-Israel bias'

Kenneth Roth slams 'crazy' decision to deny him fellowship allegedly over criticism of Israel
Kenneth Roth, former Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, speaks on stage during the 2022 Concordia Annual Summit in New York on 20 September 2022 (AFP)
Kenneth Roth, former executive director of Human Rights Watch, speaks on stage during the Concordia Annual Summit in New York on 20 September 2022 (AFP)

The former head of Human Rights Watch has been denied a fellowship at Harvard Kennedy School allegedly over what university officials said was his "anti-Israel bias".

According to an article published on Thursday by US magazine The Nation, Kenneth Roth - who retired as executive director of HRW in April after three decades running the organisation - had been offered to become a senior fellow at Harvard by the university's Carr Center for Human Rights Policy.

However, Harvard Kennedy School dean Douglas Elmendorf reportedly vetoed the appointment over Roth's criticism of Israel during his work at HRW and in social media posts.

Elmendorf reportedly told Kathryn Sikkink, a professor of human rights policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, in July that the appointment was being withdrawn due to HRW's "anti-Israel bias" and Roth's social media posts. 

The decision came two weeks after Roth was interviewed by Elmendorf over the position, during which he was asked if he had any "enemies".

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Roth described the decision as "crazy." 

“You have this human rights center. Who is better qualified than me?” he told The Nation, adding that Elmendorf had "no backbone whatsoever".

In response to The Nation, a Kennedy School spokesman said: “We have internal procedures in place to consider fellowships and other appointments, and we do not discuss our deliberations about individuals who may be under consideration.”

Defence establishment links

Although no public details have been released as to who may have objected to Roth's presence, The Nation article's author Michael Massing pointed out the Kennedy School's promixity to the defence and security establishment in the US, which has close links with Israel.

Massing noted that in 2017, Elmendorf had bowed to pressure from former CIA officials at the school in rescinding a visiting fellowship to whistleblower Chelsea Manning.

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HRW has regularly been attacked by pro-Israel organisations over its reporting on rights violations in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

In April 2021, the organisation provoked fury from Israel after it officially accused the country of practicing apartheid in a 217-page report.

“Prominent voices have warned for years that apartheid lurks just around the corner if the trajectory of Israel’s rule over Palestinians does not change - this detailed study shows that Israeli authorities have already turned that corner and today are committing the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution,” Roth said at the time of report's release.

“While much of the world treats Israel’s half-century occupation as a temporary situation that a decades-long ‘peace process’ will soon cure, the oppression of Palestinians there has reached a threshold and a permanence that meets the definitions of the crimes of apartheid and persecution."

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