Visit by Middle East Forum scholar draws criticism

Last Thursday, an intimate group of students attended a lecture by Asaf Romirowsky, a Middle East analyst with the Foundation for Defense for Democracies and Middle East Forum. The event, hosted by the Haverford Israel Coalition, attracted a handful of students opposed to Romirowsky’s visit and views espoused by the Middle East Forum.

Romirowsky’s lecture focused on the history and future of Middle East peace talks, as well as the consequences of Iran’s nuclear weapons program. He criticized former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for failing to push for peace between Israel and the Palestinians and blamed the former leader for the current Palestinian predicament.

He said that with Iran’s growing power, specifically with its nuclear weapons program, the Arab World has turned its attention from the Palestinian cause to that of protecting themselves against Iran.

“If you look today at what is happening on the Arab street, if you look today at what is happening in Cairo and what is happening in Syria, what has become visible is where there is actually real human rights violations, real starvation, where there is actually real abuses happening, so that the Palestinian cause has been marginalized,” Romirowsky said.

(ABOVE: Audio from the Q&A portion)

After his lecture, Mr. Romirowsky accepted questions from the small audience. Students raised questions regarding Iran’s nuclear weapons and whether Israel or the U.S. will carry out strikes against Iran. Other questions were asked on the topic of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which included a heated back-and-forth between a student, Ari Levin ’14, and Mr. Romirowsky.

“I think it’s good for the college to be encouraging discussion on Israel-Palestine,” Levin later wrote by email, after the event. “That being said, I think both the college and the student(s) who brought in Romirowsky have a responsibility to uphold the “trust, concern, respect” aspects of the Honor Code, and bringing in someone from an organization like the Middle East Forum that promotes racist and Islamophobic attitudes does not create a space where everyone can feel safe and comfortable talking and prevents students from being able to engage in productive conversation.”

Critics of the Middle East Forum, a Philadelphia-based think-tank that aims to “[promote] American interests in the Middle East and [protect] Western values from Middle Eastern threats,” say the organization is racist and xenophobic, pointing to the views of director Daniel Pipes.

Pipes is the founder of Campus Watch, a national initiative which reviews college and university Middle East Studies programs. According to The New York Times, that group “has accused professors of, among other things, being soft on militant Islam and sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. It has stirred widespread controversy and, in some cases, may have undermined professors’ bids for tenure.”

Some students were later critical of the organization that hosted Romirowsky.

While she doesn’t believe in deciding who does and does not have a right to speak on campus, one attendee, Emily Mayer ’14, was critical of Students’ Council for funding the Haverford Israel Coalition “so heavily.”

“From the number of students who attended the talk, I think it’s clear that Romirowsky and the Haverford Israel Coalition’s position towards Israel and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is marginal at best,” said Mayer in an email. “And so to throw so much money at a student organization which does not in fact represent a wider swath of student opinions is misguided and depicts Student Council as politically biased in a way I don’t think it intends to be.”

Based on the Students’ Council budgets approved for this semester, the group received $1250 for Romirowsky’s visit.

“Should SC money be used for speakers?  I think so, yes,” said Barak Bacharach ’15, head of the Haverford Israel Coalition. Bacharach said the $1250 honorarium was the figure given to him by Students’ Council after Romirowsky said he would “work within [their] budget.

Bacharach said Romirowsky brought new perspectives to the campus.

“I find a ton of things offensive including actions by some people in that audience do I ask they be barred from campus?” he added. “We chose him because he [is an] interesting, accomplished scholar who has opinions not often seen on Haverford’s campus.”

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