A Harvard University speech by an award-winning Irish poet was canceled yesterday after Harvard president Lawrence H. Summers and several professors and students complained about the poet's verbal attacks on US-born Jewish settlers and Israel's treatment of Palestinians.
The poet, Tom Paulin, was scheduled to deliver a public reading on campus tomorrow evening. While students and professors were organizing a boycott of the speech, Summers expressed his own concerns about Paulin in two recent conversations with members of Harvard's English department, which had invited Paulin to speak.
Summers has become a prominent critic of what he sees as anti-Semitic activities on college campuses.
Through a spokesman, Summers said yesterday, ''My position was that it was for the department to decide, and I believe the department has come to the appropriate decision.''
Paulin, who also teaches at Oxford University, has been a longtime critic of Israel on British television news programs and in his own writing; last year, for instance, he published a poem referring to the Israeli Army as a ''Zionist SS.''
He gained notoriety this year when he was quoted in an Egyptian newspaper, al-Ahram Weekly, describing Brooklyn-born Jews moving to Israeli settlements as ''Nazis'' and ''racists'' and saying that they ''should be shot dead.''
A Harvard official said yesterday that English department members were ''in ignorance'' about Paulin's views when they invited him last winter to deliver the prestigious Morris Gray poetry reading. English department members said Paulin's selection was based solely on his poetry, which has explored sectarian violence in Northern Ireland and won several prizes, including the Somerset Maugham Award.
The English department and Paulin mutually agreed to cancel the speech, according to a Harvard statement. Efforts to reach Paulin at Oxford were unsuccessful.
There was some division in Harvard's English department over the cancellation, with two members telling the Globe that it was appropriate, but another member saying it was ''an insult to free expression and the department's independence.''
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