Duke students protest invite for Israeli war crimes suspect Tzipi Livni

A woman sits in a chair

Former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni continues to evade international war crimes investigations. (Sandy Teperson)

Hundreds of students are calling on Duke University to cancel an event with an Israeli war crimes suspect.

Tzipi Livni, the former foreign minister who helped orchestrate the 2008-2009 massacre of Palestinians in Gaza, is expected to speak at the prestigious university on Wednesday.

The event is sponsored by the Duke Israel Public Affairs Committee, an advocacy group on campus, as well as Duke’s departments of political science and public policy.

It is also supported by the Middle Eastern Studies Center and Duke’s American Grand Strategy program, which primes students for national security policymaking.

Students for Justice in Palestine at Duke has been assembling a coalition of individuals working to cancel the event.

Livni has so far evaded war crimes probes and has been the subject of investigations brought by the UK in 2009, and Switzerland and Belgium in 2017.

She is the subject of a complaint by Palestinian victims filed in Brussels in 2010 for war crimes during the 2008-2009 assault which killed more than 1,400 Palestinians.

Livni evaded investigation and possible arrest for war crimes when she canceled a trip to Brussels in January 2017.

“If her crimes disqualify her from entering Belgium without threat of arrest, they should disqualify her from speaking at Duke without first having to answer for her crimes before a court of law,” wrote Lama Hantash of Duke SJP over the weekend.

In June 2016, Livni was summoned to voluntarily appear at Scotland Yard’s War Crimes Unit, but the UK government intervened and granted her diplomatic immunity.

In an open letter and petition to the university administration, students warn that Livni’s appearance contravenes Duke’s purported “high ethical standards.”

Those standards include “holding individuals and organizations accountable for their actions and decisions.”

The letter also holds the departments of political science and public policy responsible for choosing to “valorize a known war criminal” and for the disservice that does “to future generations and past victims.”

In sponsoring Livni’s event, the letter adds, the Middle Eastern Studies center directly violates its educational mission.

“We will not be silent as Livni glorifies crimes against humanity, evades justice and accountability, and minimizes the lives and deaths of her victims,” the students say.




Duke University came under scrutiny following an April 2019 conference on Gaza co-hosted by the University of North Carolina. The Israel lobby denounced the event as a shocking example of antisemitism in academia. Not by coincidence, Kenneth Marcus, recently installed as the Trump administration's Assistant Secretary of Civil Rights at the Department of Education, has indicated a strong interest in suppressing criticism of Israel on campus. His previous involvement in this cause consisted of numerous aggressive, unsuccessful attempts as a private citizen to litigate against pro-Palestinian student groups. His claims that forcefully supporting Palestinian rights is an antisemitic act were always rejected by the courts. But now he's in charge of the division within the DoE charged with enforcement of Title VI 1964 Civil Rights Act- and he won't be relying on the courts. He can punish institutions where it really hurts- the removal of federal funding. By conflating Zionism with the Jewish religion, he intends to initiate government action against colleges and universities which allow students and faculty to organize and express opposition to Israeli apartheid. He will do so based on an interpretation of Title VI that views criticism of Israel as a form of prohibited discrimination against Jews.

With this in mind, it's hardly surprising that hosting Livni at an official event will be seen as an attempt by the university to reassure Marcus and the Israeli government that there will be no repetition of April's "antisemitic" conference. So student protests against this craven gesture are to be welcomed in the hope that this occasion provides an opportunity to teach uninformed classmates just who Tzipi Livni is, what she stands for, and what she's done to merit opprobrium.

She is, in fact, a stone cold racist killer.

Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).