Scholar’s Unacceptable Call to Curb Palestinian Births
Several weeks ago, a visiting scholar at Harvard’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs sparked outrage with comments that have reverberated across the university and beyond. Speaking to a conference in Israel, Martin Kramer said that Western nations ought to halt food aid to Gaza in order to stem population growth. Lest there be lack of clarity, he later spelled it out online: UNRWA, the UN agency in charge of services for Palestinian refugees, “assures that every child with ‘refugee’ status will be fed and schooled regardless of the parents’ own resources”—an offense which, in Kramer’s mind, amounts to a pro-natal subsidy encouraging the birth of “superfluous” Gazan youth.
In response to the criticism that followed, the Weatherhead Center defended Kramer and said it would be inappropriate “to pass judgment on the personal political views of any of its affiliates.” Calling Kramer’s comments appalling, Professor Stephen Walt of HKS pointed out the irony of invoking academic freedom given Kramer’s own “past efforts to bring external pressure to bear on academics”—Walt included—“who made arguments about the Middle East that he found objectionable.”
Mr. Kramer’s stance in favor of halting humanitarian aid to refugees as a means of population control would be morally atrocious whatever the context. But in Gaza, it is particularly lethal. Gaza is under a near-total blockade: despite its obligations as an occupying power to ensure the basic welfare of the people there, Israel severely limits the import of basic materials and bans nearly all exports out of the Gaza Strip.
As a result, Gaza’s trade and food production are at a standstill. Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem estimates that 80% of Gazans would starve without food aid. To advocate halting that aid as a tool of population control is not only hateful, it is homicidal. What’s more, such a move would do nothing to curb the extremism that Kramer deplores: radicalization is the product not of excessive education and sustenance but rather of the very besiegement, deprivation and dehumanization that has characterized the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for decades, and which Kramer now advocates deepening.
The Weatherhead Center has responded to criticism of Mr. Kramer’s remarks by saying it “takes no position on any issue of scholarship or public policy.” This stance does a disservice to any legitimate notion of academic freedom. Advocating for starvation, sterilization or any other means of forcibly diminishing the size of a persecuted and impoverished population is not academic discourse. It is not diversity. It is hate speech, and were it to be perpetrated against any other group on the basis of race, religion or nationality, Harvard would surely consider it a gross misuse of the University’s institutional platform.
As Walt wrote on his blog, “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?”
Such speech would likely garner a far weaker defense from the Weatherhead Center, though it is no less reprehensible. Harvard should welcome no group or individual who proffers racist, repugnant views under the guise of scholarship.
The Weatherhead Center needs to act on its mission to promote global knowledge by taking a stand against unproductive hate speech of this nature and disassociating from Mr. Kramer immediately.