Cambridge, USA: Don’t let scholar call for Gaza genocide in Harvard’s name


Martin Kramer is using the mantle of Harvard University to promote racism and genocidal birth prevention policies, and Harvard’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs is letting him get away with it.  The Weatherhead Center is also striking back at critics, aiming to freeze them out by claiming that asking the Center to condemn Kramer’s statements flies in the face of academic debate and freedom of speech. 

But the Center has forgotten something crucial in taking this tack: supporting speech can never absolve Universities of the responsibility they have for the repercussions that flow from this support.  Universities don’t exist to promote any speech at all. Universities are special and powerful actors in the realm of ideas and policies, and the Weatherhead Center—self-described on its website as “the largest international research center within Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences”—is uniquely influential and therefore uniquely liable for the “debate” that it fosters and the scholars to whom it lends its name and credibility.

But we need to start with who Martin Kramer is, what he said, and where and when he said it.   According to the Weatherhead Center’s website, Kramer is a  visiting scholar in the Center’s National Security Studies Program (NSSP.)  This program aims to be highly influential, claiming a practical and far reaching impact on the world’s most critical issues:  “The central purposes of NSSP are to conduct basic, policy-relevant research on critical topics of national security and strategy and to educate and prepare scholars in strategy and national security for positions in colleges, universities, research institutes, and government.”

Kramer spoke at the 10th annual Herzliya Conference in Israel on February 3—a conference that, like Harvard University and the Weatherhead Center within it, attempt to assert their influence on Middle East policies and global politics generally  (the Conference website states that “the Herzliya Conference is Israel‘s primary global policy annual gathering, drawing together Israeli and international participants from the highest levels of government, business, and academia to address pressing national, regional and world strategic issues.”) In his remarks, Kramer called for population control as a way to “break” the cycle of martyrdom and radicalism in several Islamic countries, and more specifically, in Gaza.  As other people writing before me have pointed out, his words encourage action that matches the (narrowly defined) definition of genocide from the 1948 UN Convention on Genocide, because he promotes “breaking Gaza’s runaway population growth” as a means to “ris[e] to the challenge” of radicalism against the state of Israel.  These statements seem to fall within the realm of calling for genocidal policies by advocating the prevention of birth within a specific ethnic, racial, or religious group. The heart of what Kramer said is excerpted below, and can be found on his personal website in both text and video format:

“Afghanistan and Yemen will almost double their populations between now and 2030. What will 28 million more Afghans and 20 million more Yemenis do? What about the nearly 80 million more Pakistanis who will be added by 2030? This explosive growth will drive radicalization through another generation at least, and push it into Europe and America through emigration.

Second, there is hope. By 2030, these societies will have passed through the youth bulge. Fertility is already falling, in some places steeply.  .  .  .

Now eventually, this will happen among the Palestinians too, but it will happen faster if the West stops providing pro-natal subsidies for Palestinians with refugee status. Those subsidies are one reason why, in the ten years from 1997 to 2007, Gaza’s population grew by an astonishing 40 percent. At that rate, Gaza’s population will double by 2030, to three million.

Israel’s present sanctions on Gaza have a political aim—undermine the Hamas regime—but if they also break Gaza’s runaway population growth—and there is some evidence that they have—that might begin to crack the culture of martyrdom which demands a constant supply of superfluous young men. That is rising to the real challenge of radical indoctrination, and treating it at its root.”

On February 22, Kramer clarified what he meant by “pro-natal” by stating on his website that “UNWRA [the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East] assures that every child with ‘refugee’ status will be fed and schooled regardless of the parents’ own resources . . . .”  So, in short, Kramer supported removing programs that feed and educate children of Palestinian refugees, and he lauded Israel’s sanctions on Gaza as “break[ing] Gaza’s runaway population growth.”  We should laugh at any attempt to repackage these statements—such as the Weatherhead Center’s subsequent February 23 spin on them as  “express[ing] dismay with the policy of agencies that provide aid to Palestinian refugees, and that tie aid entitlements to the size of refugee families.” Anyone who can read can see them for what they are—a statement not merely of “dismay,” but one that advocates curbing births within Gaza’s Palestinian population, and that declining births in countries such as Pakistan are a very good thing.  The Center’s letter and Kramer’s rejoinder focuses on Kramer’s statements about Gaza, but as the excerpt above shows, Kramer himself is concerned with controlling the populations of several Muslim countries, more generally.  The context in which Kramer’s Gaza statements were made undermine the notion that his primary focus is the actions of refugee agencies, as opposed to birth rates, period.

These statements are not where the problem ends; things got worse when, instead of condemning the content of this speech as racist, anti-Muslim, anti-child,  and anti-refugee, the Weatherhead Center began to cloak it in the legitimacy of academic dialogue.   In the Center’s February 23rd statement, which Kramer has made use of by publishing on his website, the Director and Acting Directors of the Center claimed that “it would be inappropriate for the Weatherhead Center to pass judgment on the personal political views of any of its affiliates”—something that the Center surely does each time it considers whether to accept persons as affiliates—and sheltered Kramer’s statements in “fundamental academic freedom.”  The Director and Acting Directors have erred greatly in issuing this letter of support.  We are all called upon to “pass judgment” on views that express racism, and particularly views that call for reducing the population of any one group, and suggest specific means of how to do so.  And, crucially, there is no such thing as “fundamental” academic freedom—academic freedom is a qualified concept, constructed for the purpose of promoting the role of Universities as influential sources of ideas and policies that shape the world.   Academic freedom does not exist separate from the ethos of a University or its institutions.  As fonts of social mores, Universities have a particular responsibility to condemn egregious and inhumane ideas.

The ethos of the Weatherhead Center belies the statements they have issued in acceptance of Kramer’s racism. Its website states that “[t]he Center was created [in 1958] as a means of confronting the world’s condition,” a condition characterized at least in part by the idea that “[f]oreign affairs in our era pose unprecedented tasks…Today no region is isolated; none can be ignored; actions and events even in remote places may have immediate worldwide impact . . . .”  For a Center founded on the interconnectedness of ideas and their relevance and impact on the world, it is perplexing to say the least that they would take t
he position that Kramer’s statements were merely an opinion, denying the broader impact such opinions have.  The influence of such statements is particularly enhanced when made by someone with the clout of the Harvard name behind him and who has self-reported on the Center’s website that his research interests are “U.S. policy options in the Middle East.”  Neither Kramer nor the Weatherhead Center “speak” or “think” into a vacuum.  The dialogue in question aims at deliberate outcomes. 

How are we to take seriously the idea that Kramer’s statements, combined with his affiliation with the Weatherhead Center and the Center’s support of his freedom to make them, pose no problem; are simply ideas; are only discussion and words; when the Center exists and Kramer works not only to promote “controversy” and debate but to shape the actions of governments?  We are not that naïve, and the Weatherhead Center should cease to offer such a disingenuous excuse.  The Center is hiding behind the position of freedom of speech, when it has created the Center’s dialogue not simply to generate more speech but in order to have a larger influence on the world of foreign affairs.  It must take responsibility for the ideas it helps generate and support.  It cannot lead and duck at the same time.

Kramer’s statements and the Weatherhead Center’s support of them raise the question of the point at which an institution must distance itself from the “personal” viewpoints of its affiliates.  Certainly Kramer has a right to write and say such things.  But let’s not forget who he is and where he was speaking.  Kramer’s “personal” viewpoint was expressed at a large, international, influential conference, in his capacity as a Weatherhead scholar.  The Weatherhead Center has come to his defense, and their statements of support have been broadcast to the entire world.  At this point, we need to stop pretending these are only the personal statements of an individual, for they have taken on the character of Harvard University sanctioned speech and have been lent all of the legitimacy that this carries.  Let us take such support seriously, and to call upon the Center to behave more responsibly in the ideas that it promotes.  It is no small thing to denounce the feeding of refugee children, and it is no small thing to pretend that the concept of academic freedom can be stretched far enough to protect such calls.

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