Gaza’s youth not ‘superfluous’

"To cut down on gang-related crimes, policies could be put in place to curb the African-American population growth in places like Harlem and Compton. The government could consider cutting off welfare benefits for families in these urban areas to discourage births of blacks and cut down the supply of ‘superfluous young men’ who have nothing else to do in their lives but be preyed on by criminal gang leaders who give them a sense of belonging. Ultimately these policies are an effective way to limit gang related crimes."

The absurdity and lack of logic in the above fictitious paragraph is overshadowed only by its offensive nature. Few would welcome such a view in 2010, but this kind of argument was made recently to an audience that received it with applause instead of disgust.

Martin Kramer, a fellow at Harvard University’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, made this argument at a conference in Israel last month. The only difference was that the population he sought to limit was Palestinians in Gaza to prevent "economically superfluous young men" from joining radical groups. He said that "if society cannot offer dignified pursuits for the fourth and fifth and sixth sons, then someone else will."

He also supported lowering the fertility rate for Palestinians in Gaza and argued that this "will happen faster if the West stops providing pro-natal subsidies for Palestinians with refugee status."

Society? In Kramer’s version of reality, it is Palestinian society that cannot offer dignified pursuits for their children. He seems to think Gaza exists in a vacuum. He seems to be ignorant of the events and actors that have created the current situation.

The children of Gaza are not "economically superfluous" because they were born into large families. Their inability to be productive members of society is not the fault of society itself, but the fault of the occupying and devastating force of the state of Israel. The occupation of Gaza and the subsequent siege and attacks by Israel have destroyed lives, industry and infrastructure. With the percentage of the population relying directly on food aid increasing from 60 percent to 80 percent in the past three years and unemployment at an all-time high, it is obvious that the children of Gaza are "superfluous" not simply because they are born, but because of what they are born into: a hell in a prison controlled from the outside by Israel.

Yet Kramer knows full well that Israel is laying siege to Gaza. In fact, he goes on to support it. The siege, he argued in his speech, can "break Gaza’s runaway population growth – and there is some evidence that they have – that may begin to crack the culture of martyrdom which demands a constant supply of superfluous young men."

The fact that Kramer fails to make the connection between Israeli policies and the conditions that lead to economic "superfluousness" undergirds his logical and analytical ineptitude. This, coupled with the racist and offensive nature of his comments, should push decision makers at Harvard University to reconsider whether it should be affiliated with such individuals.

Had Kramer’s comments been about any other group, as described in the opening paragraph, Harvard might have already terminated his fellowship.


First published in The Boston Globe