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Harvard conference draws fire

Mideast forum focuses on ‘one-state solution’

An upcoming conference at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government on the “one-state solution’’ to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is drawing ire from organizations who believe it promotes the elimination of Israel.

The “One-State Conference,’’ which will take place this weekend at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum, is meant to investigate the feasibility of a creating a unified Israeli-Palestinian political state as a potential solution to war in the region.

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But the event has caused some to criticize the Kennedy School for failing to adequately distance itself from the conference’s controversial subject matter.

Ahmed Moor, a first-year student at the Kennedy School, is the conference’s primary organizer. He said he was inspired to establish the conference because of his personal experience: Moor, 27, was born in the Gaza Strip and spent much of his adolescence living in both Palestine and Philadelphia.

The purpose of the conference, which will feature 21 speakers, is to discuss ways to ensure that all residents of the region enjoy human rights, Moor said.

“The only thing that matters, in my view, is that everybody in every part of the world has their basic rights upheld, the kind of rights that we enjoy in America,’’ Moor said.

The conference’s 300 participant slots have sold out.

Officials from the Anti-Defamation League, a civil rights organization, have lambasted the event, saying that it has dangerous implications for the Middle East’s lone Jewish state.

Kenneth Jacobson, deputy national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said he fears that attaching Harvard’s name to the conference will legitimize the one-state solution movement, which he called “a euphemism for eliminating the state of Israel.’’

“When something so egregious takes place at Harvard, it really merits our attention,’’ Jacobson said.

The conference is student-organized, but received modest funding from the Kennedy School’s student government, said Melodie Jackson, a spokeswoman for the Kennedy School. The school’s name and logo appear at the top of the conference’s website.

Jackson said she could not recall a conference in recent years that has sparked as much controversy as this event. Harvard police will provide security.

Last week, Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, wrote a letter to Harvard president Drew Faust, asking the university to denounce the conference’s subject matter.

“There can never be any legitimate discussion of a concept which, by its very nature, will result in the end of the Jewish character of Israel,’’ Foxman wrote.

Jacobson said the organization does not want Harvard administrators to censor the event, but instead wants the school to renounce its theme.

In response to Foxman’s letter, David T. Ellwood, dean of the Kennedy School, distanced the institution from the conference’s subject matter.

“We would never take a position on specific policy solutions to achieving peace in this region, and certainly would not endorse any policy that some argue could lead to the elimination of the Jewish State of Israel,’’ Ellwood responded in a letter.

But Ellwood defended students’ rights to discuss and explore their opinions.

“We hope the university will always be a place where academic freedom ensures that the free exchange of ideas and reasoned debate is a precious right,’’ Ellwood wrote.

Martine Powers can be reached at mpowers@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @martinepowers.
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