WCFIA at Harvard: accusations are baseless

The following statement has been issued by the directors of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs (WCFIA) at Harvard:

Over the past several days, we have heard from several members of the public, and of the Harvard community, who object to the statements of Martin Kramer at a recent conference. Kramer is a Visiting Scholar at the National Security Studies Program, which is a program of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs (WCFIA). (Kramer is not, contrary to the understanding of some of our correspondents, an employee of the Center or of Harvard University.) Many of those who have written us have called upon the Center to dissociate itself from Kramer’s remarks, or to end his affiliation with the Center.

The WCFIA has many hundreds of affiliates: faculty members, graduate students, undergraduates, post-docs, visiting scholars and others. They represent the widest possible range of opinion on almost every subject. The Center takes no position on any issue of scholarship or public policy, nor does it attempt to monitor or control the activities of its affiliates.

Accusations have been made that Martin Kramer’s statements are genocidal. These accusations are baseless. Kramer’s statements, available at http://www.martinkramer.org/sandbox/2010/02/superfluous-young-men/, express dismay with the policy of agencies that provide aid to Palestinian refugees, and that tie aid entitlements to the size of refugee families. Kramer argues that this policy encourages population growth among refugee communities. While these views may be controversial, there is no way they can be regarded as genocidal.

Those who have called upon the Weatherhead Center to dissociate itself from Kramer’s views, or to end Kramer’s affiliation with the Center, appear not to understand the role of controversy in an academic setting. It would be inappropriate for the Weatherhead Center to pass judgement on the personal political views of any of its affiliates, or to make affiliation contingent upon some political criterion. Exception may be made for statements that go beyond the boundaries of protected speech, but there is no sense in which Kramer’s remarks could be considered to fall into this category. The Weatherhead Center’s activities are based upon a firm belief that scholars must be free to state their views, and rejects any attempts to restrict this fundamental academic freedom.

Beth Simmons, Director, Weatherhead Center for International Affairs (on leave 2009-2010)

Jeffry Frieden, Acting Director, Weatherhead Center for International Affairs (Fall 2009)

James Robinson, Acting Director, Weatherhead Center for International Affairs (Spring 2010)

Update, 2018: Read “A Controversy at Harvard,” my retrospective on this affair.

Smear intifada

Electronic Intifada, a death-to-Israel website run by Ali Abunimah, says that in my Herzliya Conference speech, which I posted two weeks ago, I “called for ‘the West’ to take measures to curb the births of Palestinians, a proposal that appears to meet the international legal definition of a call for genocide.” According to the site, “Kramer proposed that the number of Palestinian children born in the Gaza Strip should be deliberately curbed, and alleged that this would ‘happen faster if the West stops providing pro-natal subsidies to Palestinians with refugee status.'” The usual suspects, Philip Weiss and M.J. Rosenberg, have jumped on the bandwagon. Being accused of advocating genocide by people who daily call for Israel to be wiped off the map of the Middle East is rich.

In my speech, I made no such “proposal.” The full quote:

Aging populations reject radical agendas, and the Middle East is no different. 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.

I didn’t propose that Israel take a single additional measure beyond the sanctions it now imposes with the political aim of undermining Hamas. And I didn’t call on the West to “deliberately curb the births of Palestinians.” I called on it to desist from deliberately encouraging births through pro-natal subsidies for Palestinian “refugees,” which guarantee that Gazans will remain both radicalized and dependent.

The Electronic Intifada claims that “neither the UN, nor any other agencies, provide Palestinians with specifically ‘pro-natal subsidies.'” This is a lie: UNWRA assures that every child with “refugee” status will be fed and schooled regardless of the parents’ own resources, and mandates that this “refugee” status be passed from generation to generation in perpetuity. Anywhere in the world, that would be called a deliberate pro-natal policy. Electronic Intifada: “Kramer appeared to be equating any humanitarian assistance at all with inducement for Palestinians to reproduce.” Appears to whom? A pro-natal subsidy is a national or international promise to support the yet-unborn, not humanitarian assistance to the living. The pro-natal subsidy in Gaza is the unlimited promise of hereditary “refugee” status to future generations.

(Stopping pro-natal subsidies isn’t an original idea, and I credit Gunnar Heinsohn for making a much more detailed case for it, in his January 2009 Wall Street Journal Europe article, “Ending the West’s Proxy War Against Israel: Stop funding a Palestinian youth bulge, and the fighting will stop too.” He also coined the phrase “superfluous young men.”)

Of course, Palestinian extremists and their sympathizers are quick to throw the “genocide” charge against Israel, and so are some Israelis. The late Tanya Reinhart once accused Israel of “slow genocide” against the Palestinians—which, if it were Israel’s policy, must be counted its most dismal failure, since population and life expectancy in the West Bank and Gaza have grown by an astonishing rate since 1967. The rise didn’t all result from Western subsidies (Heinsohn calls them “unlimited welfare”), and employment of Palestinians in Israel played a crucial role as well. But now the responsibility lies primarily with the West. I will leave the final word to Heinsohn (who, by the way, heads an institute for comparative genocide research):

As long as we continue to subsidize Gaza’s extreme demographic armament, young Palestinians will likely continue killing their brothers or neighbors. And yet, despite claiming that it wants to bring peace to the region, the West continues to make the population explosion in Gaza worse every year. By generously supporting UNRWA’s budget, the West assists a rate of population increase that is 10 times higher than in their own countries. Much is being said about Iran waging a proxy war against Israel by supporting Hezbollah and Hamas. One may argue that by fueling Gaza’s untenable population explosion, the West unintentionally finances a war by proxy against the Jews of Israel.

If we seriously want to avoid another generation of war in Gaza, we must have the courage to tell the Gazans that they will have to start looking after their children themselves, without UNRWA’s help.

Overnight addendum: I’m amused by my sudden overnight promotion to Harvard preeminence (by bloggers—why not?), but I have to disappoint. I’m not a “Harvard prof” (Rosenberg) or a “distinguished Harvard professor” (Richard Silverstein). My own homepage records that I’m presently a visiting scholar at Harvard’s Weatherhead Center (in the National Security Studies Program). The purpose of visitorships is to facilitate joint research between Weatherhead faculty and non-Harvard colleagues; a visiting scholar must hold a regular academic appointment somewhere else. I enjoy my Harvard research and library privileges. But I’ve never taught at Harvard, I’m not there now, and I don’t use the Harvard affiliation as an identifier on this Sandbox blog. For that, I rely solely on my permanent affiliations. So my rapid promotion at Harvard is really just a stunt by demagogues to attract attention, and the wild exaggeration is of a piece with all they produce. (Still, it was flattering…)

Further update: The directors of the Weatherhead Center at Harvard: “Accusations have been made that Martin Kramer’s statements are genocidal. These accusations are baseless.” Full text here.

More commentary:  Harvard Crimson editorial:

The blogosphere clearly overreacted in perpetuating the genocide meme created by Electronic Intifada and others. While the 1948 U.N. Convention does delineate “measures intended to prevent births” as a form of genocide, Kramer was not advocating an ethnic cleansing of Gaza’s citizens, but rather a shift in the average age of their population with the intention of, in his opinion, benefiting them in the long run. Considering the content of Kramer’s speech, labeling his policy as “genocide” is unfair, and steers the debate away from his actual argument.

Although we disagree with Kramer’s politics, creating a thriving marketplace of ideas among academic Fellows at Harvard can only benefit the University as a whole. Indeed, a major goal of the Weatherhead Center is to promote “vigorous, sustained intellectual dialogue” within the Harvard community, and a diverse view like Kramer’s will certainly foster the sort of debate the center seeks to promote. Although we question Kramer’s judgment, we refrain from questioning his continued presence at the Center and the legality of his statement in light of the U.N. Convention on Genocide. We encourage the blogosphere to follow suit.

Article by Jeremy Patashnik in the Harvard Political Review: 

Kramer’s remarks were not softly worded, and there are plenty of good reasons to reject his conclusions, but to call his proposal genocidal is, quite simply, absurd. This is not merely a semantic question of hyperbole gone awry. When M.J. Rosenberg, and others, label legitimate ideas as morally repugnant without rationally refuting them, it creates an environment of hyper-political correctness where people become afraid to share new–sometimes controversial–ideas for fear of being branded “radicals”…

It’s good that Kramer’s remarks have caused controversy. If people disagree with him, they ought to make their opinions known, and Kramer should, in turn, defend the ideas he put forth. Much of what Kramer said deserves to be rejected, but there are also parts that can contribute to the ongoing dialogue on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Perhaps ending pro-natal subsidies is morally unpalatable, but that doesn’t mean a discussion of how Palestinian population growth affects the conflict shouldn’t enter into the picture. Rosenberg does this important topic a disservice by irrationally branding ideas he doesn’t like “genocide.” Political correctness serves its role in society, but when it’s taken too far, it inhibits creative thinking.

Update, 2018: Read “A Controversy at Harvard,” my retrospective on this affair.