BY JOEL POLLAK
Harvard Law School lecturer Jacqueline Bhabha has signed a petition in support of Bill Ayers, the former Weather Underground terrorist who was an early supporter of Senator Barack Obama ’91 in the 1990s. Obama’s relationship with Ayers has been criticized by Senator John McCain and Governor Sarah Palin.
Ayers has admitted playing a role in several bombings in the early 1970s, including attacks at the Capitol and the Pentagon, where an explosive was placed in a women’s bathroom. Today he is Distinguished Professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago.
A group of educators drafted a petition in support of Ayers, which has been circulated via e-mail and was posted online in mid-September at supportbillayers.org. To date, the petition has gathered over 600 signatures. Bhabha, who is the director of the Harvard University Committee on Human Rights Studies, is among the signatories.
“I signed the petition because I know him well, I respect him, and I think he is an educator with integrity,” Bhabha said in an interview Monday with the Harvard Law Record. She added, “I abhor terrorism, and always have, but I think the opportunistic use of Obama’s documented, superficial connections with [Ayers] at this late stage of the election campaign is dishonest and completely unprincipled. [Ayers] has been a highly visible, public figure in Chicago for at least 20 years. His record as an educator and upstanding civic personality is well known.”
Bhabha added that the petition has “no links whatsoever” with the Obama campaign and that she would not have supported Ayers if he were still engaged in violent acts. “I don’t support armed struggle,” she said.
The petition highlights Ayers’s work in the education field, while minimizing his role in the Weathermen. It states, in part: “The current characterizations of Professor Ayers-‘nrepentant terrorist,’ ‘lunatic leftist’-are unrecognizable to those who know or work with him. It’s true that Professor Ayers participated passionately in the civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s, as did hundreds of thousands of Americans. His participation in political activity 40 years ago is history; what is most relevant now is his continued engagement in progressive causes, and his exemplary contribution-including publishing 16 books-to the field of education.”
Bhabha added that she saw no conflict between her support for Ayers and her support for human rights. “I have no hesitation in supporting the work he does now, in teaching and civil society. People change, and their records speak for themselves.”
Disclosure: Pollak, a 3L, is a McCain volunteer.