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Protesters Stage Walkout of Event with Israeli Ambassador at Harvard Kennedy School

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UPDATED: April 12, 2022 at 5:09 p.m.

Chanting “end the occupation” and “apartheid has got to go,” Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine protesters disrupted an event with Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Herzog, at the Harvard Kennedy School on Thursday.

The Kennedy School’s Israel Caucus, a student group, organized the event with Herzog. The discussion was moderated by Eric B. Rosenbach, co-director of the Kennedy School’s Belfer Center. Shortly after Herzog began speaking, protestors interrupted the ambassador with chants and walked out of the event.

Morgan K. Benson, an HKS student who participated in the walkout, said he protested the Kennedy School’s decision to host “perpetrators of apartheid.”

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“I’m disappointed that I go to a school where we can’t speak plainly about justice for Palestinians and the conditions that they’re living under, and that we are willing to platform war criminals who have directly contributed to those injustices,” Benson said. “It’s just important for students to counteract that normalization of the occupation that’s happening at the school.”

Joseph G. Leone, a student at the Kennedy School who also participated in the walkout, said he recognizes the school will invite a range of government officials, but those responsible “for Israeli apartheid and settler colonialism shouldn’t be welcomed at HKS.”

“HKS is going to host officials of various countries — that’s true — and we host plenty of odious figures from the United States as well,” Leone said. “But I think there’s a line, and I think that HKS has lines as well.”

Elad Strohmayer, a spokesperson for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, wrote in a statement that “the Ambassador came with the purpose of engaging in an open and honest dialogue.”

“While the Ambassador welcomes criticism, it was a shame that a small group of students only cared to create a provocation,” Strohmayer wrote. “Change can be achieved by listening to one another and the Ambassador came with this purpose: to listen to and to have a productive conversation with the students.”

HKS spokesperson James F. Smith said in a statement that the Kennedy School is “committed to open debate.”

“The School recognizes students’ rights to non-disruptive protest and dissent as well as students’ rights to organize events and ensure that invited speakers can present their views and be asked questions,” Smith said.

Leone said Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine has “no plans to let up” its protests of Israeli officials at HKS, including its weekly protest of Amos Yadlin, a retired Israeli Defense Forces general and senior fellow at the Belfer Center.

In a statement, the Kennedy School’s Israel Caucus condemned the protest.

“The vibrance of Israel’s democracy and the ability to critique the state is one of the things we most admire about our home,” the group wrote. “Many in the caucus have been protesting policy we disagree with, including the occupation, all our lives.”

The group wrote that “the peace process has been stalled by those on both sides who deny that the other is a partner for peace.” The protestors “chose to fuel this destructive stance by telling the Israeli ambassador that we at Harvard are unwilling to speak to him,” its statement said.

“Instead of pressing Israel’s most powerful diplomat on Israeli policy they disagree with, they shouted and left the room,” the statement said. “This kind of action may make American graduate students feel good about themselves, but it will neither promote justice nor peace for those actually living the conflict.”

Leone said Thursday’s walkout was the second time that week he protested an Israeli official at the Kennedy School.

“The frequency of these events is just shocking,” Leone said. “I have classes that meet less frequently than there is an IDF general speaking at HKS.”

—Staff writer Miles J. Herszenhorn can be reached at miles.herszenhorn@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @MHerszenhorn.

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