David Eden, Chief Administrative Officer at Hillel International, provided a statement in defense of the Harvard College Israel Trek 2014. The trip made a stop at Yasser Arafat's grave and posed for a picture. His statement is quoted in full:
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. This morning the Trek was up north on the Syrian border touring an elite Israeli defense post and receiving an update from a senior IDF general on the current security situation there. So much of the trip is in that vein.
The Israel Trek is being led by Harvard Israeli students, distinguished IDF veterans among them, and is sponsored by Harvard Hillel together with the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, along with several individuals and family foundations, all staunchly pro-Israel. 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. The trip also includes a visit to Ramallah to meet with Palestinian leadership.
Trek participants are documenting every step of their trip together, taking pictures of the group with virtually everything they see, everywhere that they are hosted. Given our digital online world, the participants may have given insufficient thought to the way in which this particular photograph would be seen and received back home, where the image is being captioned and written about in a very disturbing manner, including sensationalistic interpretations, by people unfamiliar with the Trek’s full program and mission.
The fifty student participants in this trip come from diverse backgrounds and faiths, selected from more than three hundred applicants. The positive experience of Israel that they are sharing, and that they will bring back to Harvard, will have an enormous and constructive effect in increasing understanding of Israel with personal connection and amity. That’s the real story.