"One State" Conference at Kennedy School of Government

  • February 28, 2012

A "One State Conference" featuring a variety of anti-Israel academics and activists, including Stephen Walt, Ali Abunimah and Ilan Pappe, took place at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, March 3-4, 2012. 

The conference, which was promoted as an opportunity to explore the "possible contours of a one-state solution" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, came on the heels of a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) conference that took place at the University of Pennsylvania in early February.

Both of the conference's keynote speakers, Ali Abunimah and Ilan Pappe, enthusiastically endorsed a one-state solution and used the platform to condemn and demonize Israel. Pappe described Gaza and the West Bank as "the biggest open-air prisons in human history." Abunimah criticized the Israeli government as predicated on "colonial and racial power."

Rabbi Brant Rosen, who has described Zionism as "idolatry" and is a co-chair of Jewish Voice for Peace's Rabbinical Council, defended his decision to speak at the conference. In a post on the anti-Israel blog Mondoweiss, Rosen pointed to a presentation by "The Israel Lobby" co-author Stephen Walt, who expressed hope that a two-state solution was still viable, as evidence that the conference attracted a multiplicity of opinions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But according to most media accounts, Walt was the only one of the twenty listed speakers who spoke in favor of a two-state solution.

In fact, it seems like much of the discussion during the conference revolved around what kind of one state solution would look best, not whether a one-state solution would actually be a positive one.

The program for the conference had made clear that it would promote a perspective very critical of Israel and included sessions on why the two-state solution is no longer viable; the obstacles that prevent a one-state solution; "right of return" and "law of return" issues; and national identity questions.

A disclaimer on the conference Web site noted that it would be thoroughly student-run and did not "represent the views" of any Harvard institution. The dean of the Kennedy School expressed similar sentiments in a February 24 statement that noted that the university "would never take a position on specific policy solutions to achieving peace in this region, and certainly would not endorse any policy that some argue could lead to the elimination of the Jewish State of Israel." 

Two university institutions, the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs and the Office of the Provost of Harvard University, however, financially supported the conference.

ADL Response

ADL has consistently expressed opposition to any notion of a one-state solution, which would necessarily result in the dismantlement of Israel as a Jewish state.  In response to the "One State Conference", the League: 

  • Apprised Jewish and pro-Israel student groups on campus of the conference and the scheduled speakers.
  • Contacted university officials, including Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust and Kennedy School Dean David Ellwood to express concern with the message of the conference.
  • Welcomed a statement issued by Dean Ellwood distancing the university from the conference.
  • Published an op-ed in The Boston Globe explaining why a one-state solution is a fundamental assault on the Jewish people and calling on people to stand up against it. 

Many of the speakers who addressed the conference have a long record of anti-Israel statements, including comparing Israelis to Nazis, supporting boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaigns against Israel and accusing Israel of engaging in "pinkwashing" by allegedly showcasing its progressive LGBT record as a way to whitewash its policies toward Palestinians.  The invited speakers included:

Ali Abunimah, the Executive Director of the anti-Israel Web site "Electronic Intifada" and author of "One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse," is a frequent speaker on college campuses around the country and advocates a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and BDS campaigns as a way to pressure Israel and unite the Palestinian people. Abunimah claims that many of Israel's security-related policies are predicated on racism and not genuine security concerns; in a June 2011 interview on the news channel Russia Today, he claimed that Israel imposes a blockade on Gaza "because they are not Jews" and described it as "fundamentally racist." Abunimah has not hesitated to compare Israel to South African apartheid and Nazi Germany, including describing Gaza as a "ghetto" and a "concentration camp" and arguing that "Zionism is not atonement for the Holocaust, but its continuation in spirit." 

Stephen Walt, an International Affairs Professor at the Kennedy School of Government and the co-author of "The Israel Lobby," regularly spouts his conspiratorial theories related to an excessively powerful pro-Israel lobby. At a speaking appearance at Cornell University in September 2010, Walt described President Obama's efforts to negotiate a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a "charade" and said that unless Obama is willing to pressure both sides, which he described as unlikely because Obama doesn't want to alienate Jewish voters, there "isn't going to be a two-state solution." He also said that without a solution, the situation could "result in apartheid."  Walt maintains a blog on ForeignPolicy.com where, in a 2010 post, he wrote that he condemns the then-recent shooting of 4 Israeli citizens in the West Bank as much as he condemns "Israel's attacks on the civilian population of Gaza or its assault on the Mavi Marmara."

Diana Buttu, a fellow at Harvard Law School and a Palestinian-Canadian lawyer, was involved in the lawsuit against Israel's security barrier in the International Court of Justice in 2004. She has participated in various anti-Israel events in the U.S, including annual Al-Awda conventions where she called for Israeli citizens to be "held accountable" for Israel's policies and recommended taking action that will make it difficult for Israelis to travel abroad. She is a supporter of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaigns against Israel.  In a FOX News interview during the winter 2008-2009 Gaza war, Buttu refused to assign responsibility to Hamas for civilian deaths in Israel. She then falsely accused Israel of using the U.S. elections as "an opportunity to go into the Gaza Strip and kill Palestinians" (a reference to events in November 5, 2008 that started when Israeli forces intercepted a Hamas terrorist cell that was constructing a tunnel under its border).       

Sa'ed Adel Atshan is a PhD student in Harvard's Center for Middle Eastern Studies. Atshan spoke at the recent BDS conference at the University of Pennsylvania where he advocated that LGBT groups refuse to be used by Israel as part its alleged propaganda agenda. In 2008 Atshan presented at two anti-Israel events at Brandeis University where he condemned the blockade on the Gaza Strip and claimed that Israel uses basic humanitarian needs (like water and electricity) as "weapons" against the Palestinians. He also alleged that the media is biased in favor of Israel and that you can't see the conflict through the "eyes of Palestinians."

Dalit Baum is an Israeli pro-boycott activist and the co-founder of Who Profits from the Occupation. Baum is currently in the U.S. working on a new program called "Economic Activism for Palestine," which supports "corporate accountability" campaigns in the U.S. As part of her work, Baum recently wrote a letter calling for activists to boycott Bed Bath & Beyond because it sells AHAVA products and SodaStream, a beverage carbonating device made in the settlements. Baum has spoken regularly at anti-Israel events around the U.S., including at a US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation conference in September 2011 on the topic of "Crafting and Sharpening Effective BDS Campaigns: Changing the Discourse and Isolating Apartheid Israel," and a March 2011 Israeli Apartheid Week event at Georgetown University.  

Sarah Schulman is an English professor at CUNY, Staten Island and a supporter of the BDS campaign against Israel. In June 2011, Schulman spoke at a "Boycott Israeli Apartheid" event in Toronto, which was organized by a local group called Queers Against Israeli Apartheid. While visiting Israel in 2010, Schulman refused an invitation to speak at Tel Aviv University in solidarity with the boycott campaign. 

Schulman opposes what she describes as Israel's "pinkwashing" efforts, which, she alleges, uses Israel's progressive societal values on LGBT issues to "whitewash" against human rights criticisms. She recently wrote an op-ed in The New York Times which criticized Israel for its alleged pinkwashing. Schulman was also interviewed in a recent issue of GO Magazine, a free lesbian publication, and said the following: "My goal is that [the American LGBT community] come to understand and refuse "Pinkwashing"—in which the Israeli government uses our community to appear 'progressive' and hide their ongoing human rights abuses…Right now many of our community film festivals receive small amounts of money from the Israeli consulate for this PR purpose. My goal is for us to refuse to be used in that way."

Ilan Pappe is an anti-Israel professor at the University of Exeter in London and the author of  "The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine." Pappe frequently visits the U.S. to speak to American audiences about Israel's alleged mistreatment and abuse of the Palestinians. He has visited numerous campuses in the United States in recent years, including speaking at the University of Wisconsin in November 2011; an Israeli Apartheid Week event at the University of Buffalo in March 2010; and during the Muslim Student Union (MSU)'s "Never Again? Palestinian Holocaust" week at UC Irvine in May 2008. 

Pappe regularly calls for punitive measures against Israel, including boycott and sanctions, and advocates a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In an interview with the Qatar-based newspaper The Peninsula, Pappe said he supports "Hamas resistance against the Israeli occupation" and claimed that two independent states could not coexist in "the land of Palestine," according to The Jerusalem Post. In a June 2008 interview conducted with the Inter Press Service News Agency, Pappe railed against Zionism, calling it an ideology of "exclusion, racism and expulsion." In frequent articles published on the popular anti-Israel Web site "Electronic Intifada," he has called Israel's policies in Gaza "genocide" and referred to the West Bank and Gaza as made up of "ghettos" and a "mega prison."

Marc Ellis is the Director of the Center for American and Jewish Studies at Baylor University. According to his bio on Baylor University's Web site, "with other Jews of Conscience Professor Ellis has sought to rescue the Jewish ethical tradition… facing its own moral crisis as Jewish identity becomes increasingly identified with the politics of America and Israel." Ellis sees Israel as immoral and therefore as odds with Jewish history and what he terms "the Jewish covenant." He holds "the entire Jewish world" as "culpable in the plight of the Palestinians" because of its support for Israel, and argues that the Jewish community uses the Holocaust to justify Israel's oppression of the Palestinians.  Ellis sees himself as part of a growing movement of individual "Jews of conscience" who "resist" Israel and what he describes as the new "Jewish power," which causes others to suffer.  Ellis frequently speaks at anti-Israel events on other college campuses and elsewhere.

The Israeli government is predicated on "colonial and racial power." -- Ali Abunimah Gaza and the West Bank are "the biggest open-air prisons in human history." -- Ilan Pappe Share via Twitter Share via Facebook

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