Harvard faces pressure for sponsoring neocon who wants to limit Palestinian births

Israel/Palestine
on 15 Comments

The pressure is mounting on Harvard to repudiate Harvard fellow Martin Kramer’s vile call on western governments to limit Palestinian births. Here is Ali Abunimah’s letter to the Weatherhead Center’s directors.

Dear Profs. Frieden and Robinson,

I understand you are both Acting Directors of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs during this academic year. I am writing to draw your attention to statements made by one of your Fellows, Martin Kramer, earlier this month, calling for specific measures to curb births among Palestinians as a way to reduce extremism. As explained in the article linked below about Mr. Kramer’s comments, these statements meet the international legal definition of a call for genocide. "Harvard Fellow calls for genocidal measure to curb Palestinian births." If you doubt the shocking, offensive and outlandish nature of Mr. Kramer’s comments ask yourself how you — and other reasonable listeners — would react if his comments were directed at Jews, African Americans or virtually any other group that has at one time or another been the target of systematic and widespread demonization and dehumanization in our society and abroad.

While I value academic freedom and freedom of speech as much as anyone else, I believe calls for genocide of a specific group — made at a conference attended primarily by those who have the power to do it (Israeli military and political elites) — crosses the line into a form of incitement that we, as members of a decent society should not tolerate, appease or forbear. I believe you should completely dissociate your center from Mr. Kramer and not allow him a platform, or resources with which to disseminate such odious policies.

Yours sincerely,

Ali Abunimah

15 Responses

  1. marc b.
    February 23, 2010, 11:43 am

    If you have the time, please write: my letter below.

    Weatherhead Center for International Affairs
    Harvard University
    1737 Cambridge Street
    Cambridge, MA 02138
    Attn: James A. Robinson, Acting Director

    Dear Professor Robinson:

    I am writing to you in regards to comments made by Martin Kramer, a fellow at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, in a speech made by Professor Kramer at the Herzliya Conference on February 7, 2010. In his speech, which Professor Kramer titles ‘Superfluous Young Men’ on his blog Sandbox,, he opens by briefly describing and discounting several theories which attempt to explain the phenomenon of Islamic radicalization, to include the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and US foreign policy in the Middle East and Southwest Asia, in favor of a theory based on demographics.

    Accordingly, Professor Kramer cites the work of Gunnar Heinsohn, director of the Raphael-Lemkin-Institut at the University of Bremen, who has referred to the increased fertility rate in Gaza as a ‘birth defect of the Arafat-Rabin peace process’ in an opinion piece published in The Financial Times of London on June 14, 2007. Professors Heinsohn and Kramer both tie the increased fertility rate to an inevitably increased radicalization of Palestinian males (the ‘economically superfluous young men’ of Kramer’s speech).

    There are several disturbing aspects to Professor Kramer’s analysis:

    First, not simply content to describe the purported relationship between demographics and terrorism (Professor Kramer repeatedly relates radicalization in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia directly to Al-Qaeda) Professor Kramer approvingly cites the example of the Israeli blockade and military campaign against Gaza as an effective means of reducing the Palestinian birth rate, thereby combating terrorism. (“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.”). Professor Kramer does not provide any evidence for his implied assertion that ‘Gaza’s runaway population growth’ is driven by a desire to produce future martyrs. Nor, unsurprisingly, does Professor Kramer dwell on the messy details of how current Israeli policy might reduce the birth rate in Gaza, although UNICEF and other agencies have done the work for him, concluding that the blockade has significantly increased levels of malnutrition amongst children, and has prevented the entry of needed medical supplies.

    Second, Professor Kramer’s analysis is inherently racist. He concludes that ‘superfluous’ Muslim males will necessarily mature into suicide bombers or similarly inclined individuals. He does not explain, for example, why Muslim males with a lack of opportunities might not mature into soccer fanatics or binge drinkers. Rather, since he has discounted any political impetus for their discontent, one is left to presume that radicalism is in their genes or, at least, in the ‘genes’ of Islam.

    Lastly, Professor Kramer’s analysis, and indeed his catch phrase for the phenomenon (‘superfluous young men’) is uncomfortably redolent of the ideology of the proponents of the eugenics movements in America and Europe in the early 20th century. Superfluous populations which threatened the national health of National Socialist Germany were referred to as ‘useless bread gobblers’, and were dealt with through a variety of measures long before exterminationist policies reached their apocalyptic conclusion.

    In conclusion, let me say that I rarely write to an institution with which I have no affiliation, however Professor Kramer’s commentary demanded a response.

    Sincerely yours,

    cc: Beth A. Simmons, Center Director
    Martin Kramer

  2. Ismail
    February 23, 2010, 3:09 pm

    Marc, that is a first-rate letter-specific, patient, and admirably bereft of the bitterness or fury you must feel . Inspiring.

    I agree with your endorsement of linguistic precision. In that spirit, I suggest changing “…as precise use of the language is important.” to “…since precise use of the language is important.”

    This completes today’s Pedantry Moment. It is now safe for you to resume your normal activities.

  3. marc b.
    February 23, 2010, 4:16 pm

    Ismail, I stand at the vanguard of the cranky, middle-aged, letter-writing movement. We cannot be denied. Unless of course it’s a coldish day and our bursitis is acting up.

  4. Shmuel
    February 23, 2010, 5:50 pm

    Great letter, Marc. Rereading Kramer’s remark (”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.”) it dawned on me that this neocon’s neocon openly admits (boasts?) that the siege is not about security or the smuggling of Iranian weaponry or sticky-tape and infant formula (that any idiot with internet access can fashion into a nuclear warhead), as Israel’s apologists would have us believe, but an act of political pressure on 1.5 million civilians, in order to “undermine the Hamas regime”. Kramer speaks the truth, because he is so morally bankrupt that he sees nothing wrong with starving 1.5 million people for the sake of “political aims”.

  5. sky7i
    February 23, 2010, 5:56 pm

    I already posted this on the original post concerning Kramer, but since this post is collecting letters (and more recent) I thought it was worth repeating here. It’s by a fellow named Ian G. Anderson who posted this to Kramer’s Facebook page. It was promptly deleted but I saved a copy:


    Your thoughts are genocidal for a simple reason: you advocate for a reduction in the Palestinian birthrate for the inaccurate reason that a mere surfeit of young men has resulted in their opposition to Israel, rather than a cogent and valid opposition to Israel’s oppressive policies (the destructive economic sanctions which, you generously note, you are not advocating increasing). Rather than attempt to understand the Palestinian’s grievances, you write them off as simply overcrowded and I suppose bored, as though extremism springs up from the aether. This is a fascist way of thinking, because you ascribe an unrealistic threat to the regional hegemon to that threat’s ethnicity. “You must stop breeding, because overpopulation is a periodic inconvenience to our economic dominance and expansion-minded extremist settlers.”

    Your position is disgusting, euphemistic racism, but it is exactly what I have come to expect from Israel and its supporters–after all, 55% of Jewish Israelis support the encouragement of Arab emigration from Israel, 78% oppose allowing Arabs political representation, and 74% of Jewish Israeli youths feel that Arabs are “unclean.” (Source: link to haaretz.com) 90-95% supported the disproportionate crackdown of Operation Cast Lead, which resulted in 1,400 dead and a gutted infrastructure (economic and otherwise), which combined with the ongoing blockade and sanctions, have resulted in the sort of desperation one might expect in any ghetto. According to the Nation, “According to the Palestinian Chamber of Commerce, the de facto unemployment rate is closer to 65 percent. At least 75 percent of Gaza’s 1.5 million people now require humanitarian aid to meet their basic food needs, compared with around 30 percent ten years ago. The UN further reports that the number of Gazans living in abject poverty–meaning those who are totally unable to feed their families–has tripled to 300,000, or approximately 20 percent of the population.” But I’m sure anyone angry about this are just “superfluous young men” right?

    You presume, arrogantly and without support, that overpopulation is an indication of success. Are you at all familiar with the behavior of impoverished peoples?

    In addition to being racist, you are incorrect. Palestinian opposition to Israel, even extremist opposition, is not motivated by religion or demographics, but revenge. Compare this to Israelis, which are motivated by a hagiographic and mythological connection to a land which was never rightfully theirs, and which they took by force. One group is motivated by history, the other by self-interest and religion.

    The demographic problem is not young Palestinians, but rather young radical Israelis.

    These are the real anti-Semites. Israel has long used its Jewish identity as a crutch, an excuse, and a scapegoat. Worldwide anti-Semitic incidents rose sharply in 2009 due to revelations of Israel’s brutality and deliberate targeting of civilians and their homes in the Cast Lead invasion (an invasion, I will note, which was precipitated by Israel, which broke the 2008 ceasefire–a ceasefire in which the number of Qassam rockets fired into Israel dwindled almost to nothing), no doubt exacerbated by Israel’s repeat accusations of anti-Semitism toward anyone making even constructive criticism of its actions. Were I a Jew, I would be furious at the Israeli government for using my identity as an excuse to commit genocide, and endangering me in the process.

    The Electronic Intifada is not a “death-to-Israel website.”

    Honestly, you sound more like a schoolyard bully than a professor. Shame on you.

  6. Colin Murray
    February 23, 2010, 7:14 pm

    If he had said the same racist words directed at any ethnic group in America, he would already have been fired. The question is whether he still has a job because his hateful words were ‘only’ directed at Arabs, or is it because he spoke them on behalf of the Israel Lobby and the fascist wing of the Israeli political establishment?

    This is neither an academic freedom nor a free speech issue. His continued employment is a blight upon Harvard’s, and America’s reputation.

  7. potsherd
    February 23, 2010, 9:54 pm

    Juan Cole has picked this story up: link to juancole.com

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