UN Official, Banned From Israel and Welcomed at Harvard Event, Denounces Jewish State for ‘Genocide,’ ‘Apartheid’

American government calls Francesca Albanese’s comments ‘unacceptable and antisemitic,’ yet a Harvard professor thanks her for ‘incredibly important work.’

New York Sun archives
Anti-Israel student activists demonstrate at a Harvard convocation for entering first-year students in Tercentenary Theater at Harvard Yard, Cambridge, Massachusetts, August 30, 2022. New York Sun archives

The October 7 attack on Israel was not motivated by antisemitism but was rather “a way to break the occupation, apartheid,” a United Nations official insisted Monday at a Harvard Kennedy School sponsored event hosted by a Harvard professor.

“The seventh of October didn’t happen in a vacuum,” the UN official, Francesca Albanese, said, pointing to the “context of a suffocating occupation,” including Israel’s “colonization of the land.”

“I feel comfortable saying that the state of Israel is responsible for genocide,” Ms. Albanese said. “I have very strong grounds to believe it’s genocide.” 

“Israel is operating through a system of apartheid against the Palestinian people,” Ms. Albanese said. She called for a halt on arms sales and weapons transfers to Israel, saying that other countries could have “complicity in the commission of genocide.”

United Nations Special Rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territories Date
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territories, Francesca Albanese. Via Wikimedia Commons

Ms. Albanese also pointed to what she said was a shortcoming of any proposed “two state” solution as advanced as a possible post-war plan. “The two-state is still a form of segregation for Palestinian people,” she said.

The UN official faulted Israel for destroying Gaza universities, hospitals, and schools. She did not mention that Hamas was using those sites as bases. She faulted Israel for killing journalists. She did not mention Israeli disclosures that at least some of the “journalists” were members of terrorist organizations.

The Harvard professor who hosted the event, Mathias Risse, is the Berthold Beitz Professor in Human Rights, Global Affairs and Philosophy at the Harvard Kennedy School. He is also the faculty director of the Kennedy School’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy.

Mr. Risse began the event by saying that he was “delighted” to be hosting the virtual event with Ms. Albanese and concluded by praising what he called her “incredibly important work — looking at the facts, doing legal analysis.” Mr. Risse thanked Ms. Albanese. He said she had been subjected to “substantial distortions,” “fabrications” and a “massive onslaught of very destructive criticism.”

In the days and hours before the Harvard event, officials from the State Department, the French foreign ministry, and the government of Israel denounced Ms. Albanese in unusually strong terms. The U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council, Ambassador Michele Taylor, posted on X, “Francesca Albanese has a history of using antisemitic tropes. Her most recent statements justifying, dismissing, & denying the antisemitic undertones of Hamas’ October 7 attack are unacceptable & antisemitic. We expect more of independent UN experts and condemn all forms of antisemitism.”

Ms. Taylor also reposted her own December 2022 post that said, “We are appalled by recently uncovered antisemitic remarks on social media made by a UN Human Rights Special Rapporteur before taking on the role. References to the ‘Jewish Lobby’ are an age-old trope; this is outrageous, inappropriate, corrosive, & degrades the value of the UN.”

An Israeli foreign ministry official, Yaari Cohen, quoted Ms. Albanese’s October 7 statement that “Today’s violence must be put in context. Almost six decades of hostile military rule over an entire civilian population (incomprehensibly ignored by too many official statements & media outlets) are in themselves an aggression, and the recipe for more insecurity for all.”

Said Mr. Cohen: “Albanese made this horrific statement justifying the mass ra*e and murder of Israeli civilians WHILE THEY WERE BEING MURDERED. Albanese should resign in shame.”

The French foreign ministry put out a statement calling Ms. Albanese’s remarks “scandalous.” According to a Google translation, France quote-tweeted Ms. Albanese and said, “The October 7 massacre is the largest anti-Semitic massacre of the 21st century. Disputing it is a mistake. Seeming to justify it, by including the name of the United Nations, is a shame.”

The Kennedy School’s Carr Center has a track record of hosting events at which Israel is bitterly denounced, including a September 28, 2022, event at which a boycott-Israel activist, Ramy Shaath, spoke with apparent pride about how at age 13 in 1983 or 1984 he had demonstrated against Israeli participation in the Cairo book fair.

At that event, a senior lecturer at the Kennedy School who was moderating the event, Marshall Ganz, responded to a student question about getting Harvard to divest from Israel by saying, “We’re having an organizing class this spring. I can’t think of anything better around which to organize.”

The Carr Center also sponsored a February 8, 2023, event at which one of its fellows, Kenneth Roth, expressed indifference to whether Israel is wiped off the map: “one state, two states, confederation — we don’t care, whatever.”

Meanwhile, student anti-Israel activists, in coordination with other groups, are organizing loud public events on and around campus almost daily. This week, according to social media, the events have included a protest outside Senator Warren’s house and a Monday afternoon rally and “die-in” on the steps of Widener Library.

Harvard is being sued by students for antisemitism on campus. It is also the focus of antisemitism investigations by at least two Congressional committees and by the federal Department of Education. The university’s president, Claudine Gay, resigned in January under pressure in part for mishandling the situation.

Ms. Gay’s successor, an interim president, Dr. Alan Garber, named as co-chairman of an antisemitism task force a professor, Derek Penslar, who signed an August 2023 letter faulting Israel for apartheid and ethnic cleansing and calling for restricting American military aid “from being used in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.” 

Mr. Penslar had also publicly twice said concerns about antisemitism at Harvard are “exaggerated.” After Mr. Penslar’s appointment, a former Harvard president who remains a professor at the university, Lawrence Summers, said, “I have lost confidence in the determination and ability of the Harvard Corporation and Harvard leadership to maintain Harvard as a place where Jews and Israelis can flourish.” The event with Ms. Albanese supports Secretary Summers’s point.


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