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Sunday, March 23, 2014
Why did Harvard students visit Arafat's grave?
Harvard University students take trip to
Ramallah, post picture on social media next to Yasser Arafat's grave •
Trip funded by Jewish donors, supported by Harvard Hillel.
Harvard students at Yasser
Arafat's grave in Ramallah
Photo credit: Twitter
We have gotten used to seeing pictures of
American students almost everywhere in Israel -- at the Western Wall,
the beach, the airport. But a recent photograph taken in a much less
conventional spot has sparked a controversy within the U.S. Jewish
Students from Harvard University who are on a
sponsored tour to Israel posted a group photo last week next to former
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's grave in Ramallah. Some 50 students
from all over the world attended the Harvard College Israel Trek 2014,
which took them all over the country and included meetings with Israeli
officials, and Israel Defense Force officers.
But the students also took a trip to Ramallah
and met Palestinian Authority leaders. During the visit, the students
visited Arafat's grave -- something not originally planned in the
itinerary. Pictures, naturally posted online, caused quite a stir on
A student named Daniel Mael was the first to report the event, on the conservative website TruthRevolt.org.
"I was horrified to see that Harvard Hillel is
a supporter, and Boston's Combined Jewish Philanthropies is a sponsor
of a trip that includes a visit to the grave of one of the world's most
notorious Jew-murdering terrorists," Mael told the The Jewish Press
As the Israel Trek's website put it, "Israel
Trek is made possible by the generous contributions of a number of
family foundations and Boston's Combined Jewish Philanthropies. The Trek
is supported by Harvard Hillel."
The issue has sparked criticism and outrage in
the American Jewish community, especially among donors who discovered
they funded not only a trip to Israel but a trip to the Palestinian
Authority, in what looks like students paying their final respects to
Arafat -- who was responsible for killing thousands of Israelis. Despite
the firestorm, the Hillel International organization said on Saturday
that it supported the trip.
Chief administration officer at Hillel
International, David Eden, said in a statement that "a photograph of
Harvard Israel Trek participants at the tomb of Yasser Arafat in
Ramallah is causing understandable concern. That image is not what this
trip is about. ...The Israel Trek is being led by Harvard Israeli
students, distinguished IDF veterans among them. ..."
"The itinerary of the Trek, approved by the
sponsors, includes a very impressive roster of meetings and outings with
representatives of the very highest echelons of Israeli government,
armed forces, business, and culture," Eden continued. "The trip also
includes a visit to Ramallah to meet with Palestinian leadership."
He said the "participants may have given insufficient
thought to the way in which this particular photograph would be seen and
received back home."