There were a couple of interesting articles that have appeared in the past several weeks that illustrate inter alia how the Israel Lobby operates when anyone dares to challenge America’s wag-the-dog relationship with the Jewish state. To be sure, the labels “antisemite” and “holocaust denier” are flung about with wild abandon as a first step, but there is a level of viciousness that goes well beyond that as the Zionists seek to ruin the reputations and employment prospects of those whom they target.
The first piece concerns our old friend the actor Mel Gibson, who initially crossed swords with the Jewish Lobby back in the 2004 when he directed and produced the movie The Passion of the Christ, which to the horror of organized Jewry actually included the New Testament’s account of the Jews demanding and taking responsibility for the execution of Jesus Christ. Mel, a political conservative and devout traditional Catholic, has since paid the price by his greatly diminished marketability in Hollywood. He also was vilified when he experienced a 2006 alcohol fueled traffic stop encounter with a cop, who may himself have been Jewish, and muttered “the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world.”
It turns out that Mel, who had been asked to participate in a February Mardi Gras Krewe of Endymion parade in New Orleans as a co-Grand Marshal, no longer will appear after the group received “threats that cause us great concern” regarding the actor’s involvement. Lest there be any confusion, the Krewe’s offer produced an outpouring from the generic Jewish community that responds to such matters, to include the ever-vigilant Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans and the Jewish Community Relations Council. They released a joint statement describing how they were “appalled that Endymion chose Mel Gibson as the parade’s 2023 Grand Marshal to begin with. Mel Gibson has a long history of making antisemitic, racist and misogynistic slurs. While the actor has made half-hearted attempts to apologize for his remarks over the years, there is still a great deal of pain associated with his name and deep wounds in the Jewish community from those controversies, which may never heal.” The Jewish groups concluded “Given his history of fueling antisemitism and other forms of hate, we find his choice as Grand Marshal of Endymion was completely insulting and shortsighted. [Hopefully Endymion] will take the opportunity to learn why the selection of Mel Gibson caused such pain and disappointment to the Jewish community…”
So this is how it goes. Say anything critical of Jews or Israel, even if plausible or demonstrable, and there will be a coordinated effort by organizations like ADL that will go on forever to ruin your reputation and damage your career. To be sure, Gibson’s somewhat slurred claim that organized Jewry has been conniving and pushing for all of America’s wars over the past thirty years is not without merit. And as for those Americans who believe the First Amendment, freedom of speech, is the bedrock of all the fundamental rights protected by the Constitution of the United States, it is prudent to recognize how the immensely powerful and wealthy Israel Lobby argues that there should be exceptions to that principle, which are frequently defined as “hate speech,” to protect its tribal interests as well as its close ties to a foreign government. The Lobby works assiduously and openly to weaponize the conjoined concepts of “antisemitism” and “holocaust denial” to justify and validate any and all Israeli malignant behavior while also at the same time defaming individuals and groups who see things differently.
And, as in the case of Mel Gibson, there is also another interesting story currently surfacing detailing how the Jewish state’s friends continue to pursue critics of Israel in an effort to silence them, particularly true in academia where a number of aspiring professors have been denied promotions at universities and have had their reputations smeared for being regarded as too friendly to the Palestinian cause. In this instance, media reports describe how concern about academic freedom on campus shook Harvard University two weeks ago over exposure of the school’s decision to not offer a fellowship to a prominent human rights activist, who was rejected because of his past criticism of Israel.
Hundreds of students and alumni have called for the resignation of Kennedy School dean Douglas Elmendorf after it was learned that he had declined last year to offer a fellowship to Kenneth Roth, the former executive director of the prominent and highly respected organization Human Rights Watch (HRW). He was by far the best qualified candidate for the fellowship and had been nominated by Mathias Risse, director of the Harvard Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, who confirmed that Roth had “accepted the position in principle.” Risse called the decision a “profoundly sad moment for me personally,” and observed that it would impact on academics seeking the freedom to explore human rights violations by certain governments. Risse elaborated that “We all need to worry about that. That’s why it’s especially important that Harvard live up to its motto — Veritas. What good is all the power and prestige associated with this institution if we don’t even live up to our own motto?”
Elmendorf could not be reached for comment but Roth believes that Harvard clearly rejected his fellowship because his work for HRW, where he served for 30 years as executive director, has inevitably included criticisms of Israel. In April 2021, when Roth was still in charge of Human Rights Watch, the organization issued a 213-page report describing Israel’s “crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.” It included “These policies, which grant Jewish Israelis the same rights and privileges wherever they live and discriminate against Palestinians to varying degrees wherever they live, reflect a policy to privilege one people at the expense of another.”
Roth wrote in an opinion piece in The Guardian that followed on media coverage in The New York Times and The Nation that included how, during an earlier phone call with Elmendorf, the Kennedy School dean had asked him if he had any enemies. “I explained that of course I had enemies. Many of them. That is a hazard of the trade as a human rights defender. I explained that the Chinese and Russian governments had personally sanctioned me — a badge of honor, in my view. I mentioned that a range of governments, including Rwanda’s and Saudi Arabia’s, hate me. But I had a hunch what he was driving at, so I also noted that the Israeli government undoubtedly detests me, too.” Roth subsequently said of his discussion with Elmendorf: “It’s always Israel.” The fellowship was rejected by Elmendorf two weeks later.
Subsequently HRW’s professor Kathryn Sikkink was told by Elmendorf that Roth had an “anti-Israel bias,” that his tweets on Israel calling it an “apartheid state,” which appeared after Israel in 2018 had declared itself to be the “nation state of the Jews,” were of particular concern. HRW has in fact also issued a number of separate reports documenting how Israel has committed war crimes as well as large scale humanitarian crimes. Roth has observed that if there has indeed been a surge in antisemitism he would suggest that it frequently parallels Israeli government atrocities committed against the Palestinians, which are being increasingly reported in the mainstream media.
Roth, who is himself Jewish, elaborated how “If any academic institution can afford to abide by principle, to refuse to compromise academic freedom under real or presumed donor pressure, it is Harvard, the world’s richest university. Yet the Kennedy School’s dean, Douglas Elmendorf, vetoed a human rights fellowship that had been offered to me because of my criticism of Israel. As best we can tell, donor reaction was his concern.”
Critics of Israel have become accustomed to being targeted both professionally and personally. Liz Jackson, the senior staff attorney at Palestine Legal, a Chicago organization that seeks to defend the rights of people who speak out for the Palestinians, said that the Harvard move is not unique. Students and faculty frequently face harassment or punishment for speaking about Palestine on college campuses. She added that “We call it the Palestine exception to free speech and that’s unfortunately routine.”
The presumably Jewish donors who pressured Harvard to reject Roth continue to be unidentified, though one article speculates who they might be. And there is considerable hypocrisy on the part of Harvard as it welcomes Israeli spokesmen at its various institutes and even in teaching roles. Harvard’s Palestine Solidarity Committee explains that “Unfortunately, this is expected from an institution that regularly accepts donations from and gives leadership positions to supporters of Israeli apartheid. HKS has repeatedly invited agents of Israeli colonial violence like IDF General Amos Yadlin to teach its students under the guise of ‘national security policy,’ yet cites ‘anti-Israel bias’ in its decision about Roth.”
Fortunately, last November, Roth was granted a fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania after the Harvard rejection. In an interview published on the Penn website, he said his first priority has become writing a book “to answer the question of how a relatively small group of people moves governments around the world.”
Interestingly, stung by the media coverage of the incident, Harvard has now reversed itself and has offered a fellowship at the Kennedy School to Roth, which he apparently will accept. He asked for clarity on how the initial decision to reject him was made, commenting “Dean Elmendorf has said he made this decision because of people who ‘mattered’ to him at the university [but] he still refuses to say who those people who mattered to him were.” He added that “Penalizing people for criticizing Israel is hardly limited to me. What is the Kennedy School, and Harvard more broadly, going to do to show this episode conveys a renewed commitment to academic freedom, rather than just exceptional treatment for one well-known individual?”
Harvard University and Dean Elmendorf, for their part, dodged issuing a detailed explanation of what took place and why in the Roth affair. Israel was not even mentioned in the short, written concession made by Elmendorf, who called his initial decision an “error” and continues to be the Dean of the Kennedy School in spite of the hundreds of calls from alumni, students and even some faculty demanding his resignation over the freedom of speech issue.
Jewish Currents editor Peter Beinart tweeted shortly after the Harvard reversal was announced, observing how the back story of the Roth affair runs much deeper than an administrative faux pas coupled with pressure from donors. He observed that “It’s great that this happened. But it happened, in part, because it’s harder to cancel people like Ken Roth, who are Jewish rather than Palestinian. Palestinians are the greatest victims of this kind of exclusion. The goal must be universities that no longer cancel them.”
And there is inevitably still another related story that should be addressed. When it comes to the punishment dealt out by the Israel Lobby in the United States there really is only one important question as raised by Roth: “How does ‘a relatively small group of people move governments around the world?’” It is indeed a fundamental question that should concern every American.