Harvard students condemn center’s defense of fellow’s racist statements

The following open letter, a version of which was published as an op-ed by The Harvard Crimson on 12 March 2010, was issued by a student coalition that formed at Harvard University after The Electronic Intifada reported on the pro-genocide statements made by Martin Kramer, a fellow at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University:

We address this open letter to Beth Simmons (Director, Weatherhead Center for International Affairs), Jeffry Frieden and James Robinson (Acting Directors, WCIA) and Drew Faust (President, Harvard University).

We write as gravely concerned students and student group leaders representing over 16 groups throughout Harvard University. (An updated list of our entire constituency can be viewed online (http://www.harvardagainstracism.com/).)

We are disturbed by the racist and inhumane comments of Martin Kramer, Visiting Scholar at the National Security Studies Program at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs. We have become even more alarmed that rather than taking a dissociating or even strictly neutral stance against such extremist and hateful statements, the Weatherhead Center issued a defensive response.

At the Herzliya Conference in Israel last month, Mr. Kramer, who in his own words provides advice on “US policy options in the Middle East,” advocated measures to diminish Palestinian birth rates as a means of population control. Mr. Kramer stated that Israel’s siege on Gaza, which prohibits the entry of crucial humanitarian supplies, helps “break Gaza’s runaway population growth and there is some evidence that they have.” He suggests that this phenomenon “may begin to crack the culture of martyrdom, which demands a constant supply of superfluous young men.” Mr. Kramer’s public call to halt food, medicine and humanitarian aid — which he calls “pro-natal subsidies” — would read as a cruel joke if it did not so egregiously violate the most basic norms of human decency. Such statements have been echoed by people in power and have even been directed at Israel’s Palestinian citizens: at the same conference in 2003, Israel’s current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Palestinian citizens of Israel a “demographic threat.”

Harvard professor Stephen M. Walt commented, “What if a prominent academic at Harvard declared that the United States had to make food scarcer for Hispanics so that they would have fewer children? Or what if someone at a prominent think tank noted that black Americans have higher crime rates than some other groups, and therefore it made good sense to put an end to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and other welfare programs, because that would discourage African-Americans from reproducing and thus constitute an effective anti-crime program?”

Had Mr. Kramer’s comments been directed at any other marginalized or minority groups — leaving aside the enormous challenge faced by Palestinians living in the impoverished enclosure of Gaza — we believe that the Weatherhead Center would not have hesitated to classify them as racist and hateful. It has described Mr. Kramer’s proclamations as “controversial,” an alarming position since less than a century ago similar remarks were made against African Americans and Jews. The characterization of his statements as merely “controversial” is offensive and dismisses their deeply racist nature.

Since the Weatherhead Center provides Mr. Kramer with a legitimizing and prominent public platform, we wonder whether it views any policy call as ethically disgraceful. We are troubled that the Center has presented little to no diversity of viewpoints on the Israel-Palestine conflict. The only notable statements on the conflict emerging from the Center are Mr. Kramer’s.

However, we believe that the Weatherhead Center has an opportunity to rectify the damage caused by Mr. Kramer’s repugnant statements and redeem its esteem with the student body. First, we ask that the Weatherhead Center not renew Mr. Kramer’s fellowship or affiliation with the NSSP. Second, we call on the Center to establish a committee of faculty and students to recommend the adoption of a set of vetting practices for incoming fellows that uphold a set of principles unified on non-racism, in concert with Harvard University’s own commitment to non-discriminatory practices and diversity of viewpoints. We are concerned that the defense of Mr. Kramer’s statement reflects a violation of basic principles to which the Weatherhead Center and Harvard University claim to adhere. The above measures are an effective way for the Center and the University to make amends.

Johnny F. Bowman ‘11 is president of the Undergraduate Council. Maryam Monalisa Gharavi is a Ph.D. candidate in Comparative Literature. Abdelnasser A. Rashid ‘11 is president of the Harvard Islamic Society and board member of the Palestine Solidarity Committee.

Signatories to the statement include: Alliance for Justice in the Middle East (Graduate School of Arts & Sciences), Asian American Association, Association of Black Harvard Women, Dharma, GSAS Capoeira Angola, Harvard College Human Rights Advocates, Harvard Islamic Society, Harvard Longwood Muslims (Harvard Medical School), Human Rights PIC at Harvard Kennedy School - Leadership Team, Justice For Palestine (Harvard Law School), Latino Men’s Collective, Middle East Law Students Association (HLS), Palestine Caucus (HKS), Palestine Solidarity Committee, Society of Arab Students and the W. E. B. Du Bois Graduate Society.