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Harvard Israel conference presents ‘innovation’ to hide occupation

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As a response to the highly successful One State Conference at Harvard held last month, a number of Harvard undergraduate and graduate students recently organized the Israel Conference. According to its website and an op-ed by the conference’s organizers, the conference is meant to showcase Israel’s innovation – in a way that is palatable to all parties involved in activism around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Speakers at the conference included Harvard history professor Niall Ferguson, Governor of the Bank of Israel Stanley Fischer, the author of the book “Start-Up Nation” Dan Senor, Dennis Ross and a number of other panelists and entrepreneurs.Unfortunately, the Israel Conference brought to campus individuals whose disregard for international law raises questions regarding the conference’s dubious educational quality.

At least two panelists – Asaf Bar Ilan and Michael Eisenberg – are involved in illegal settlement activities. The first owns a farm in the occupied Golan Heights – territory that belongs to Syria and has been occupied by Israel since 1967. The second sits on the board of a religious and military school in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc in the West Bank. Both of these cases are a direct affront to the Geneva Conventions, which explicitly forbid the expropriation and settlement of occupied land by citizens of the hostile state – in this case, Israel. Sustainable innovation that deserves praise does not stem from illegal activities. The involvement of two panelists who violate international law in their daily lives proves the conference’s lack of credibility, and reflects quite clearly the inextricability of Israeli “innovation” from the occupation of Palestinian land and violation of Palestinian rights.  (Screenshots:


As troubling as the presence of settlers coming to speak at a university is (we’ve been long since sadly habituated by the presence of both IDF and US military officials as a regular presence), so too is the attempt by the conference organizers to recast Israel purely as an “innovation state” an undeniable propaganda effort.

After being called out for their whitewashing efforts in an op-ed by fellow Palestine Solidarity Committee member Alex Shams, being faced with the facts of Israel’s innovation-Occupation duo in another op-ed, and being faced with a counter-campaign whose posters you can see below, the conference organizers published another op-ed defending their enterprise using the tattered shield of “we self-sacrificing Israelis only want peace but get nothing but rockets in return.” Aside from the fact that any kind of terrorism directed at civilians is a war crime and is never condoned, depicting the so-called peace process as an Israeli-only enterprise blindly buries the efforts of thousands of Palestinians (and citizens of other countries) who have dedicated their lives to achieving a solution for this conflict. It seems, however, that in addition to trying to conceal the unpleasant matter of the Occupation underneath Israeli success stories, the conference organizers are also trying to bury decades of global peace struggle in the same casket where Israel apologists have interred nonviolent Palestinian resistance and where they are trying to (metaphorically) entomb pro-peace Israeli activists and NGOs.


This poster was part of a media campaign run by a number of independent individuals at Harvard to challenge the assumptions and publicity of the Israel Conference and instead present the public with a different perspective on the roots of Israeli innovation: ethnic cleansing, the Occupation, and foreign subsidies.

The text says: “Come learn the exciting secrets of the vibrant ‘start up nation’ & the realities of Israeli innovation. After ethnically cleansing 700,000 Palestinians in 1948, we demolished their homes and built farms and parks on top. Or as we say, ‘made the desert bloom!’ 
Since occupying the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, we have explored diverse and exciting new ways to start wars against our neighbors. Indeed, Israel is forever optimistic about its ability to never be held accountable for its crimes under international law!  
Is it sustainable? Since 1949, Israel has received about $109 billion in US aid, including $3 billion in 2011, despite being one of the most developed countries on Earth!”

An image of Mr. Fischer’s presentation.

At the conference itself, a friend of mine who attended told me how Niall Ferguson, Harvard history professor and one of the keynote speakers, engaged in the classic game of listing Arab versus Jewish inventions, proving the point (as if that needed to be done) that the conference is nothing but a political propaganda tool. Stanley Fischer, Governor of the Bank of Israel and other keynote speaker, decided to focus instead on the demographic threat posed by Arab population growth rates – another Zionist trope and indication that the main course “innovation” comes with a side of fear politics and demagoguery.

At the end of the day, no one asked – or rather attempted to coerce – Harvard University to shut down the Israel Conference or dissociate itself from it, as was done by vocal pro-Israel groups for the One State Conference. Instead we hope that all attendees, both Harvard-affiliated and not, will see through this hasbara wall engraved with upward-trending NASDAQ arrows and understand what it hides: the legitimization of the settler movement, a distortion of the history of the “peace process”, a decades-old colonial establishment, and “sustainable innovation” based on extensive foreign aid and lack of legal accountability.

Giacomo Bagarella
About Giacomo Bagarella

Giacomo Bagarella was a member of the Palestine Solidarity Committee at Harvard University, from which he graduated with a degree in Government. He blogs at Perpetual Peace.

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21 Responses

  1. OlegR
    April 23, 2012, 7:38 am

    The article should be signed.
    “Typed on pc utilizing the Intel chip cpu that was developed in Israel”

    • CigarGod
      April 23, 2012, 12:27 pm

      Since when did innovations and efficiencies mitigate the barbarism of an oppressive, apartheid nation?
      Do you really want to keep going there?

      • Inanna
        April 23, 2012, 11:21 pm

        I think this is the Israeli idea of sensitivity. Or modesty.

    • Chu
      April 24, 2012, 10:27 am

      (and written by an angry 15 year old. That comment should not be allowed, given it’s embarrassing for Israel supporters and this comment section. A top comment like that is trolling and damages the seriousness of discussion.)

  2. English colleague
    English colleague
    April 23, 2012, 7:41 am

    All power to you.

    The counter conference campaign poster is excellent: “Since occupying the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, we have explored diverse and exciting new ways to start wars against our neighbors. Indeed, Israel is forever optimistic about its ability to never be held accountable for its crimes under international law! ”

    Love it.

  3. pabelmont
    April 23, 2012, 8:48 am

    So, there was pink-washing and now there is innovation-washing.

    What a funny idea that monsters and compulsive law-breakers cannot love their children, be nice to pets, make inventions, and even be nice (sometimes) to GLBT folks.

    Policemen arrest alleged criminals because of their alleged criminality, and do not stay their arresting hands because the alleged criminal is a philanthropist — although in most cultures the very rich have an easier time than the poor.

  4. seafoid
    April 23, 2012, 9:05 am

    “the attempt by the conference organizers to recast Israel purely as an “innovation state”

    Israel is first and foremost an indoctrination state

    The fallen always die for the homeland, and in their death they command us to live
    “Some of their classes, such as Bible and history, also prepare them for military service, Ben-Amos says, “not to mention the army prep programs and visits to Hebron’s Cave of the Patriarchs, or the school trips to Poland. The conclusion reached by students after returning from [a visit to] Auschwitz is that we need a strong army so that it won’t happen again.”
    More important is the communal context, the feeling of togetherness, singing sad songs together. This communal feeling is the important thing.

    She says that while a few, mainly private schools, hold alternative Memorial Day ceremonies most Israeli schools are careful to educate their students to be good soldiers.

  5. seafoid
    April 23, 2012, 10:32 am

    “how can a lie detector save the Us over $100bn a year? ”

    Just put on the special glasses that identify the nearest ziobot and tune out . The glasses identify lying douchebags such as Michael Oren and Benjamin Netanyahu by means of special 3G technology and you don’t even need to go to AIPAC to use them- they work off any home TV set by parsing language and flashing signals from satellites above the Holy Land every time the schmucks use words like “peace” and “democracy”.

    But they will save much more- the Iran war will cost at least $1 tn

  6. Pixel
    April 23, 2012, 11:35 am

    Thanks for this, GB.

    Seriously, my nanosecond initial impression of the left side of the poster was:

    If Israel took a polygraph, their lies would be exposed, thus saving US taxpayers the money given to Israel each year and plus the money spent on wars the US fights for them.

  7. Les
    April 23, 2012, 11:45 am

    Occupation is good for business. End of discussion.

  8. HarryLaw
    April 23, 2012, 11:59 am

    These two settlers are aiding and abetting grave war crimes ,Geneva Conventions Article 49.6, many Settlers go to the Occupied Territories simply because of the financial benefits, they are also guilty, but to a lesser extent than these two. The only innovation Israel wants to succeed with is to breach International Law and commit crimes against humanity on such a scale and for so long that it creates a new paradigm one it hopes other states will copy, so far they have the US on board. The panel at this conference are supporting criminals.

    • stevieb
      April 24, 2012, 11:36 am

      Yes, and in a lawful, civilized nation, they wouldn’t be asked to come and share their experiences at an institution of higher learning. They’d be arrested and put on trial…

  9. W.Jones
    April 23, 2012, 1:14 pm

    “At the conference itself, a friend of mine who attended told me how Niall Ferguson, Harvard history professor and one of the keynote speakers, engaged in the classic game of listing Arab versus Jewish inventions, proving the point (as if that needed to be done) that the conference is nothing but a political propaganda tool.”

    From Nation A conference at University A.
    “And when we come to Nations belonging to ethnicity B, we find that they have less technology and inventions. They are clearly an inferior ethnicity. We on the other hand, the Civilized ethnicity A, are clearly far superior.”

    Or perhaps Nation A isn’t really calling itself superior, they are just pointing out facts, which could by coincidence happen to suggest they are superior?

    • Elisabeth
      April 24, 2012, 7:23 am

      Ferguson deserves Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

    • dahoit
      April 24, 2012, 12:27 pm

      Oh yeah,we are all writing Hebrew letters and Hebrew numbers right?
      It’s Arabic in case you didn’t know.
      Intel chips?Yeah,computers have sure ushered in an age of enlightenment neh?
      And wasn’t Jobs Arabic?
      I will admit that Jews are great at the hard sell and marketing though.

      • W.Jones
        April 27, 2012, 1:17 am

        English uses the Latin Alphabet.
        Hebrew uses the Aramaic Alphabet.
        Hence, I am not sure it is correct to speak of English or Hebrew letters.

  10. piotr
    April 23, 2012, 4:34 pm

    My favorite innovation is skunk water.

    In bad old days IDF soldiers had to defecate in Palestinian offices and homes to impart desired sensory messages. It was time consuming and, let us face it, undignified. Moreover, the sensory effect (the stink) was quite limited.

    Now a hygienic formulation is sprayed from special trucks, and with a magnificent feat of chemistry, the stink persist for at least 3 weeks and can be applied to human targets, vehicles and buildings.

    Another application which is very impressive is data mining social networks to identify undesirable persons. This is a very complex problem that I know a little about. For example, from a Twitter message you may want to identify the geographic location from which a message originates. Doing it reliably and quickly with a computer program is quite challenging, with ambiguities, misspellings, synonyms and tricky cases where “St” can stand for “State” (frequent in American college names) “Street” or “Saint”. Now you want to sift through millions (hundreds of millions) of messages in social media and blogs to identify unfriendly individuals and, say, deny them entry to Israel on “pre-interview” basis or alert the airport security. Recently in a brilliant actions Israel denied the right to use tickets to roughly 1000 individuals, with about 40% false positive rate. If you think about complexities involved in that task, the success rate — 60% — is astounding.

    About Intel chips: (a) doesn’t Intel have laboratories in Austin, Texas

    • Elisabeth
      April 24, 2012, 7:17 am

      What about the innovative use of tear gas canisters?

    • Chu
      April 24, 2012, 10:22 am

      Skunk is a real nasty invention. The propaganda goes something like this: the recipe is based entirely on natural organic ingredients, including yeast and baking powder, does not include any harmful materials, and may even be ingested without causing harm.
      So this is a helpful agent in place of tear gas or other devices. And of course this would be used at the discretion of the military. If an immense skunk bomb should be dropped on Tel Aviv, would it be harmless?

  11. DICKERSON3870
    April 23, 2012, 4:57 pm

    RE: “…a number of Harvard undergraduate and graduate students recently organized the Israel Conference. According to its website and an op-ed by the conference’s organizers, the conference is meant to showcase Israel’s innovation…” ~ Giacomo Bagarella

    MY COMMENT: I imagine they had a lot of encouragement/backing from outside sources!

    SEE: The Trial of Israel’s Campus Critics, by David Theo Goldberg and Saree Makdisi, Tikkun Magazine, September/October 2009

    (excerpt). . . It is an extraordinary fact that no fewer than thirty-three distinct organizations – including AIPAC, the Zionist Organization of America, the American Jewish Congress, and the Jewish National Fund – are gathered together today as members or affiliates of the Israel on Campus Coalition. The coalition is an overwhelmingly powerful presence on American college campuses for which there is simply no equivalent on the Palestinian or Arab side. Its self-proclaimed mission is not merely to monitor our colleges and universities. That, after all, is the commitment of Campus Watch, which was started by pro-Israel activists in 2002. It is, rather (and in its own words), to generate “a pro-active, pro-Israel agenda on campus.”
    There is, accordingly, disproportionate and unbalanced intervention on campuses across the country by a coalition of well-funded organizations, who have no time for — and even less interest in — the niceties of intellectual exchange and academic process. Insinuation, accusation, and defamation have become the weapons of first resort to respond to argument and criticism directed at Israeli policies. As far as these outside pressure groups (and their campus representatives) are concerned, the intellectual and academic price that the scholarly community pays as a result of this kind of intervention amounts to little more than collateral damage. . .


  12. Chu
    April 24, 2012, 10:06 am

    The involvement of two panelists who violate international law in their daily lives proves the conference’s lack of credibility…

    I would agree. Having a farm on occupied land is illegal, period. The only structure that can be built on occupied land are military outposts. Having farms and new settler towns spring up is the rotten core of Israeli expansion.

    The Israel occupation is not about occupation for defensive borders, it’s about land acquisition, and in that process robs the indigenous of their right to live freely. It’s an oppressor that all of the Israelis and Americans are guilty of. Americans have to recognize that the Israel system of settlements and occupation, funded by political power and capitol, is a volatile powder keg on the legitimacy of American rule.

    No one respects a rotten leader, especially one that allows laws to be broken while saying they are in support of the greater legal establishment. Israel is damaging the US and the rest of the world with their greedy scheming. The Arab world is sick of this because it’s humiliating. It would be the same situation for people of Montana if Canadians were taking over their towns and pushing the indigenous into neighboring states. Hezbollah leader Nasrallah came to understand the plight Palestinians – they were displaced and forced into Lebanon communities because of Israel.

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