05/03/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Kramer Saga Unfolds at Harvard

I am writing this post in reference to a post published on the Huffington Post about Martin Kramer last week by MJ Rosenberg titled "Is Harvard professor advocating Palestinian genocide?" We need to move beyond this futile argument and shed light on the real issues that need to be addressed by Harvard.

Harvard should celebrate the saga of Martin Kramer.

A Harvard fellow cooking up a deadly potion to reduce childbirths in Gaza by calling on the international community to limit pro-natal subsidies to curtail extremism in one of the most impoverished areas in the world, and everyone is outraged how Harvard would offer him the plafond under the alleged claim of academic freedom.

The Harvard community responds by arguing what to call this repugnant potion and insists we give it a 'G' for genocide to make sure the mix smells dangerous enough to dissociate Kramer from Harvard.

But, hold on a minute Harvard, is this about Kramer?

Of course not. Kramer is a diversion from the real issues that we -- as a leading academic institution in the world -- need to address to maintain the academic integrity and culture of the institution.

Let me explain by creating a similar, hypothetical scenario to the one described by Kramer. (Now I admit it took me hours to come up with something this outrageous just to illustrate the discontents of Kramer's strategy.)

Suppose I was invited within my capacity as a Harvard fellow to speak on the rights of Palestinian refugees in a conference in Lebanon. I then speak before an influential international audience and advocate for Hezbollah to resolve the Palestinian refugee crisis in Lebanon by occupying Israel, cutting aid to control Jewish birthrates, and starve the children of Israel as a strategy to fight Jewish extremism. What do you think would happen to me?

I will tell you. It would take one phone call to deny me entry back into the US. And suppose I get into the country, pro-Jewish and Israeli students and organizations would harass me day in, day out to tarnish my reputation by labeling me as an anti-Semite; send a plethora of letters to key persons in the university; get a few important congressmen to make calls; force the department to dismiss me by exerting pressure on funders; shove my picture in the tabloids with heinous caricatures and articles to make sure no one will ever employ me again. And voila, gone with the wind... a lesson that I would undoubtedly deserve if I were to advocate such a repugnant strategy and one that will deter any other Arab from daring to speak against Jewish extremism.

And here's the saddest part. Even in a giant institution in America, we Arabs will not get as much of a piece of the American pie; instead we will get the crumbs that choked us back in the Arab world. We long for equality tolerance and respect and find American double standards even on American soil.

It's time for Arabs to wake up and realize that they have to earn this piece of the pie through hard work, solidarity and teamwork -- all the things that our culture sadly didn't place a premium on in the Arab world.

There are many reasons why we should salute Kramer, especially if we seize the moment to foster greater accountability, transparency and professionalism at Harvard.

First of all, when does academic freedom cross the boundaries and become incitement? Is there a clear Harvard policy that defines what constitutes a breach of academic freedom, the punitive measures Harvard is capable of taking against fellows who breach this academic freedom, and are fellows educated about this policy (if it exists) when they join Harvard?

Second, the Harvard community that calls for the dissociation of Kramer fails to acknowledge that Kramer would only have the courage to speak this language with the Kramers of this world, and the real long-term concern, is what role Harvard can play to broaden the security lens that shapes the thinking of these prominent persons who have the power and authority to execute policies that destroy any remaining prospect for reconciliation and peace in the region.

Third, is there a need to reveal whether there is a relationship between money and tolerance of such opinions? This may present an opportunity for students to ask departments to be transparent about their sources of funding. The portfolio of funders needs to be diverse enough not only on an overall school level, but on a department and center level, so as to make sure that no institutional body at Harvard is pressured by any funder to undermine the unrivaled culture of Harvard.

Arab governments need to invest more money in these giant academic institutions to give support to Arab students and fellows who have the responsibility to organize events and take initiatives that give Americans the other perspective.

Martin Kramer needs to be reminded that the Harvard we know, love and respect is the Harvard that capitalizes on academic freedom to nurture the values of tolerance, understanding and respect.

And the fellows who earn an affiliation with this world renowned institution use Harvard as a platform to fight extremism, poverty and injustice by supporting war torn impoverished areas like Gaza, and promoting the rights of the voiceless.

The saga of Martin Kramer should only highlight the responsibility of the international community to end the siege of Gaza, manage the root causes of extremism, and protect the rights of Palestinian refugees after 62 years of displacement and hardship.

Arabs will live to tell the story of Martin Kramer for he proved to the world that despite billions of dollars worth of military aid going from America to Israel every year, the Palestinian child carrying a stone remains a threat to the state of Israel.

Rima Merhi-fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.