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Thursday, March 23, 2006

More "Lobby" Fallout (NY Sun Editorial)

For those covering the effort of anti-Israel academics to demonize the Jewish state in the American academy, things don't get more dramatic than the scandal at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government. It turns out that the Kennedy School's academic dean, Stephen Walt, whose shoddiness and biases in a paper he co-wrote called "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy" ignited the scandal, holds a chair called the Robert and Renee Belfer professorship in international affairs. When we called Mr. Belfer to get his reaction, he clammed up tighter than a conch in a mudslide. But the skivvy around New York, where Mr. Belfer lives, is that the billionaire former Enron director, who has been generous to Jewish causes, was so infuriated and mortified by what Dean Walt was doing that he asked that Dean Walt not use the title of the Belfer professorship in promoting the article. As our Meghan Clyne reports elsewhere on the page, the Harvard and Kennedy School logos were promptly removed from the version of the paper that is posted on the university's Web site.

Call it the Belfer Declaration. It may not be much in and of itself, but if it turns out to be the start of an honest investigation into what is happening at the Kennedy School and at Harvard, it will be an important step indeed. Nor was it the only step in recent days. On Monday, Marvin Kalb of the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy, who we had feared was too reticent, issued a blunt statement making clear Dean Walt's paper isn't up to the Kennedy School's standards for scholarship, a statement that was all the more courageous for the fact that the Shorenstein Center is part of the Kennedy School at which Dean Walt presides. Alan Dershowitz of the Law School and Ruth Wisse of Harvard's faculty of arts and sciences have shown similar forthrightness, as has Mortimer Zuckerman, who is a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and who funds the Zuckerman Fellows at the Kennedy School. He voiced his own horror at Dean Walt's demagoguery.

Another donor who is on the spot is Leslie Wexner, the Ohio-based billionaire whose empire includes the Victoria's Secret chain. If this editorial weren't headlined "The Belfer Declaration" it might have been headlined "Where's Wexner?" For Mr. Wexner is a member of the Kennedy School visiting committee, a formal oversight body, and he funds fellowships for up to ten Israeli students a year at the Kennedy School. If he wants to send Israelis to a school where the academic dean asserts that "Viewed objectively, Israel's past and present conduct offers no moral basis for privileging it over the Palestinians," he could save himself some money and simply bus the Israeli graduate students over to Ramallah to attend Bir Zeit University, which is dominated by Hamas. Unlike Mr. Zuckerman, however, Mr. Wexner hasn't come forth with a public statement.

Also on the spot at the moment are members of Congress, which the Robert and Renee Belfer professor of international relations has said is subject to the "stranglehold" of the "Israel Lobby." Rep. Eliot Engel, a Democrat who represents the Bronx and who was accused in the dean's paper of acting on the lobby's behalf in pursuing a free Lebanon and Syria, rose to the occasion, denouncing the paper as "anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist drivel." But where is Senator Kennedy, the Democrat of Massachusetts for whose brother the late president the Kennedy School of Government is named? No profile in courage from him. He's been declining to comment on the matter for days, since we first asked him about it last week. And to judge from his remarks on the war in Iraq in recent months, he may already be lost to the cause of democracy and American ideals in the Middle East.

It's enough to make one wonder whether Harvard just ought to change the name to the Joseph P. Kennedy School of Government, after the 35th president's father, who, as FDR's envoy in London, plumped for appeasing Hitler. It is certainly true that the more one looks into the matter, the more the problems at the Kennedy School appear to reach well beyond a logo on one working paper or even one daffy dean with an exaggerated view of the influence of Jewish influence in Washington. There were warnings, including an article issued in May 2005 in the student newspaper at the Kennedy School, the Citizen. Its writer, Robert Berman, said that the school's Middle East Initiative "has been sponsoring and promoting numerous events at KSG that are highly biased, factually inaccurate, and inflammatory." He noted that the initiative's director, Hilary Rantisi, was listed as a participant on a panel organized by the Palestinian Solidarity Committee to "discuss" the decision to divest from Israel.

Ms. Rantisi is quoted in a press release from Dubai welcoming the minister of finance of the United Arab Emirates, Khalfan Bin khirbash, to a Kennedy School advisory committee. If America doesn't trust the UAE - a nation that Israelis are formally banned from entering - to operate its ports, why should its government officials be trusted to advise Harvard's Kennedy School? The Kennedy School is running an executive education program for UAE officials; the school's Web site says "the Kennedy School has developed a relationship with the federal government of the United Arab Emirates to train its mid and senior level officials on issues of innovation, leadership, efficiency, and effectiveness in the public sector." What's the Kennedy School doing, teaching UAE bureaucrats to be more efficient in barring Israeli passport holders from entering their country? Where are Senators Clinton and Schumer and the rest of the anti-Dubai crowd?

Ms. Rantisi, who, bear in mind, is the director of the Kennedy School's Middle East Initiative, is co-editor of a book, "Our Story: The Palestinians," published under the auspices of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem. Sabeel, according to the Non-Governmental Organizations Monitor of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, "is active in promoting an extreme anti-Israel agenda." It further notes that Sabeel, where Ms. Rantisi used to work, "employs classical antisemitic theological themes," citing a Jews-Killed-Jesus-type message that the organization issued for Easter, saying, "It seems to many of us that Jesus is on the cross again with thousands of crucified Palestinians operating around him. The Israeli government crucifixion system is operating daily."

In other words, the problem at the Kennedy School extends far beyond the Belfer professor. It will require a sustained effort by Harvard's donors, students, alumni and faculty to turn this situation around. Columbia University has become known derisively as Bir Zeit on the Hudson. For a while it looked like Harvard might avoid a Columbia-scale scandal, partly because Lawrence Summers chose early in his tenure as president of Harvard to confront actions that he stated were anti-Semitic if not in intent then at least in effect. Since then, of course, Mr. Summers has been driven from office, at least partly, we believe, in retribution for that stand, and today it must be said that the outcome of the struggle at Harvard is by no means assured. If those like the Belfers, Mr. Wexner, Senators Kennedy and Schumer, and scores of others with roots or a stake at Harvard aren't careful, the Kennedy School will become known as Bir Zeit on the Charles.