When Harvard Students Fail to See the Whole Picture

The Harvard Crimson is a daily campus newspaper of Harvard University. Its writers are usually undergraduate students seeking for a future career in journalism or in the public sphere. It is interesting but not totally surprising that Harvard’s student newspaper tends to be quoted in notable media like New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe and others. However, despite its prestigious reputation, it is not uncommon that Crimson’s editors fail in seeing the whole picture when it comes to complicate issues discussing the State of Israel.

The Harvard Crimson‘s “Trouble in Israel” editorial  (23/3/2015) took a deep step into the internal Israeli political dispute. I believe it would not be appropriate for the editorial board of an Israeli campus newspaper to demonize the democratic electoral consensus of American voters. Similarly, I expect The Harvard Crimson to respect the democratic decision of Israeli voters. This sentiment which exposes some lack of respect to democratic decisions is compounded by the authors’ imperfect understanding of the issues they cover in this Op-Ed. One example of inaccuracy in the article involved the claims about the possibility of  adopting  the “Jewish Nationality Law” in Israel.

Israel is the democratic nation-state of the Jewish people. As such, the country is a homeland for the Jews, and, at the same time, a democracy that maintains full equality under the law for all its citizens regardless their ethnicity (Jews, Arabs, Armenians, Samaritans, and many others), religion (Jews, Christians, Muslims, Druze), gender, or sexual orientation. While it is impossible to find even one other country in the Middle East where all citizens are free to practice whatever religion they choose, to declare on their affection for a person from the same sex, or say what they want about their government, all citizens of Israel enjoy these rights and more. Israel’s status as a nation-state for Jewish people, does not challenge its status as a democracy and freedom of its citizens, just as Ireland’s status an nation-state for the Irish or Denmark’s status as a nation-state for the Danes do not challenge their status as Western, democratic states.

Memorial Hall in Harvard University
Memorial Hall in Harvard University

The law in question is part of Israel’s constitutional process. The set of constitutional laws (“Basic Law“) that Israel is “testing” includes laws that ensure equality, outlaw institutional discrimination against any citizen, and provide juridical background for the political structure of the democracy.  In the future, this set of laws will form the constitution.

As part of this effort, the proposed “Jewish nationality law” includes defining essential characteristics of a nation-state, such as its official language, official holidays, and so on; It defines Hebrew as Israel’s official language, adds Jewish holidays to the official calendar, and also further ensures institutional protection of religious freedom for all.  To put this in perspective, Ireland lists St. Patrick’s day as a national holiday and Denmark uses Danish as its official language.

It is highly disappointing that The Harvard Crimson editorial lacks such essential background explanations. The reader is simply not provided with “the whole picture”. Moreover, the remark that Israel’s decision to follow in the model of other democratic nations and enact a constitutional law “moved Israel’s political system in the wrong direction” suggests application of double standards solely on the Jewish state. It seems that authors’ personal political agenda is responsible for presenting the information in inadequate way. They could do better. We should invest great deal in promoting friendships between the democratic nations who share the common values of freedom; not to demonize the democratic decisions of their people.

* I would like to thank Samantha Rose Mandeles for her valuable suggestions.

** Worth noting that I offered first the above article to The Harvard Crimson “opinion” section. It was rejected and no explanation was provided (“Unfortunately, we are not interested in moving forward with your piece at this time”).


About the Author
David is a Fulbright Post-Doctoral Fellow in Harvard University and the founder of "Ambassadors Online" public diplomacy program.
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