Israel aims to silence growing international criticism with Texas A&M deal in Nazareth

From left: Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp, Israeli Education Minister Shay Piron, Shimon Peres, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg. (Photo: AP)

From left: Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp, Israeli Education Minister Shay Piron, Shimon Peres, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg. (Photo: AP)

Two months ago officials from Israel and Texas made an unexpected announcement, unveiling an ambitious plan to build in Israel the first branch of an American university, at a probable cost of $100 million.

The greatest surprise of all was the location: Texas A&M University, one of the biggest in the US, is set to open its new campus in Nazareth, a town of 80,000 in the Galilee, home to the largest community of Christians in Israel and the unofficial capital of the country’s Palestinian minority.

Israel hopes to accomplish several goals from the venture: silence international criticism for its having the highest levels of poverty and inequality among the advanced economies; drive a wedge further between Palestinian Christians and Muslims; stymie efforts by Palestinians in Israel to win educational autonomy; and strike a powerful blow against mounting pressure from the movement for an academic and cultural boycott.

Since Israel’s creation more than six decades ago, Palestinian citizens, who today number 1.5 million and comprise a fifth of the total population, have complained of systematic discrimination and marginalisation in a self-declared Jewish state.

Nazareth has been campaigning to host the country’s first Arab university for 30 years, but has faced adamant opposition from successive Israeli governments, which have rejected any cultural or educational autonomy for the minority. Even in the separate school system for Palestinian citizens, Jewish officials maintain strict control over the most trivial aspects of the curriculum.

But Israel seems to be changing tack in dramatic and high-profile fashion. The government is now hurriedly preparing to overturn a law against the establishment of foreign campuses in Israel so that the university can open in Nazareth on schedule, in October 2015.

Bridge to peace?

Texas Governor and former Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry, right, posing for a photo with Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp (Photo: Texas A&M University)

Rick Perry, right, and Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp (Photo: Texas A&M University)

At a ceremony on October 23 in Jerusalem, Texas governor Rick Perry and Israel’s president, Shimon Peres, signed an agreement committing Texas A&M to assist in raising funds for the new university, which has been christened the “Peace Campus”.

As its name suggests, the Nazareth branch is being sold as an initiative to help build bridges in a troubled region. Both sides are keen to highlight that the intake of students will be drawn from Israel’s Muslim, Christian and Jewish populations, as well as attracting overseas students. There is even improbable talk of Palestinians from the occupied territories or Arabs from the wider Middle East attending.

At the signing ceremony, Perry said: “We want to see the Nazareth branch as a means to preserving peace and building understanding between cultures.”

Understandably, Nazareth officials have mostly welcomed the move, not least because it will inject much-needed investment and capital into a city that has long been starved of public funds.

But as the dust settles on the deal, questions are being raised about what really lies behind this unexpected reversal of Israel’s long-standing policy towards its Palestinian minority. Is the deal as straightforwardly a good thing as it looks?

It rather depends who is answering the question.

Raja Zaatry, director of Hirak, a Nazareth-based centre campaigning for greater access for Palestinian citizens to higher education, calls the deal “not a good scenario”, and one that has “the potential to be dangerous”.

Zaatry and others’ fears relate to a strange brew of Israeli interests in the Nazareth deal: from its economic concerns as a member of the club of wealthiest nations, to its growing ties to the Christian Zionist far-right in the US, as well as its long-standing policy of internal colonialism towards the Palestinian minority.

Suspicions among Nazareth officials of Israeli bad faith have only been intensified by the fact that negotiations were conducted without their participation. Instead the deal was agreed, after talks behind closed doors, by Peres and the Israeli education minister, Shai Piron, on one side and Perry and the Texas A&M chancellor, John Sharp, on the other.

Speaking at a press conference after the signing ceremony, Perry called the Nazareth campus “an offshoot of this long-term courting of each other.” And yet the courting stage has been highly furtive.

For Nazareth’s leadership, the deal was effectively dropped into its lap unannounced – and the day after nationwide municipal elections, following a period when all the minority’s politicians had been greatly distracted by local matters.

Similarly, it appears most officials at Texas A&M were caught equally off-guard. At least some members of the university’s board of regents, which is supposed to approve and oversee major projects, found out about the impending agreement only from the local media.

Need for economic growth

Israel’s desire to get Texas involved in effectively subsiding the higher education of its Palestinian minority can probably be explained in part by pressures from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Israel joined the OECD, an exclusive club of the 35 most developed economies in the world, in 2010, chiefly as a way to open the door to foreign investment and lower credit ratings.

But it has faced a series of critical OECD reports that have painted a picture of a strong economy – one bolstered by significant recent finds of natural gas in the Mediterranean – damaged by social cohesion indicators among the worst in the OECD. Israel, for example, has the OECD’s highest rate of poverty, at 20 per cent, beating even Mexico.

The Israeli right has sought to blame two communities for the country’s poor performance in these indices: the Jewish ultra-Orthodox and the Palestinian minority. Both communities generally have low educational qualifications, as well as high levels of unemployment and poverty.

The OECD has warned that these factors could undermine Israel’s attractiveness to investors and its scope for long-term economic growth.

But there are very different reasons for the economic weakness of the ultra-Orthodox and Palestinian minority. The former have chosen a religious lifestyle that rejects secular education and greater economic integration; in the case of the Palestinian minority, as Israeli politicians recognise – at least in private – its social and economic woes have been imposed from without.

At a meeting this month with Angel Gurria, the head of the OECD, Netanyahu promised things would change. “Creating growth is the critical thing that we are committed to.”

In that spirit, Israeli billionaire Stef Wertheimer opened the first industrial park in Nazareth in the summer, after bureaucratic hurdles placed in the way of the project for years were belatedly lifted. He plans to take advantage of the thousands of jobless Palestinian graduates who trained in hi-tech but have been unable to find Israeli companies willing to employ them.

The opening of a university in Nazareth appears to be part of the same trend, according to Zaatry. Israel wants to improve its economic credentials by tapping the potential of the Palestinian minority, without having to redirect state funds away from the Jewish population.

Christian Zionists intervene

Other aspects of the arrangement, however, have set off alarm bells, most especially the news that Texas A&M will not be providing the money directly. Fund-raising will be undertaken at least in part by US evangelicals, led by John Hagee.

Satirical image of Perry, Shimon Peres and John Hagee after the Nazareth deal was announced. (Image via Shiloh Musings)

Satirical image of Perry, Shimon Peres and John Hagee after the Nazareth deal was announced. (Image via Shiloh Musings)

Hagee is the founder of Christians United for Israel, a Christian Zionist organisation with more than a million supporters in the US that is best known for raising money to help extremist settlements in the West Bank, which are intended to destroy any chances of a peace agreement.

Christian Zionists support Israel’s Jewish population unreservedly in the hope that by encouraging all Jews to come to Israel they can advance a supposed Biblical prophecy of an end of times, in which the Messiah returns.

Given his oft-expressed disdain for Palestinians in the occupied territories, why is Hagee transforming himself into the economic and educational saviour of Palestinians in the heart of Israel?

In fact, Hagee appears to have been at the forefront of the negotiations over the Nazareth campus. He has even boasted that it was he who engineered the first meetings between Texas A&M and the Israeli leadership. Hagee is known to be close to Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Christian Zionist motivations for the deal are not hard to identify. Governor Perry has a strong evangelical following, and may be hoping that the Nazareth campus will help boost his credentials with the wider Christian Zionist movement in the US if, as expected, he seeks the Republican party’s next presidential nomination.

Sharp, Texas A&M’s Catholic chancellor and a former college roommate of Perry’s as well as long-time friend of Hagee’s, has sounded more than a little Christian Zionist in his utterances. He told the New York Times the Nazareth campus was a realisation of a passion: “I wanted a presence in Israel. I have felt a kinship with Israel.”

Jennifer Rubin, a neoconservative columnist for the Washington Post, indicated this month a possible reasoning by the US right in promoting the deal. She noted that it was revealing that Texas, “the heartland of America, especially among evangelical Christians”, rather than New York, home to many US Jews, was behind the deal.

“Americans to a greater degree than ever before identify with and support Israel, both for religious reasons and in recognition of our common defense against Islamic jihadists,” she wrote. “In Texas, as in so many other places in the United States, the idea of divesting in, boycotting or condemning the Jewish state, our best and arguably only stable ally in the region, is anathema.”

Certainly, for Israel and its supporters the establishment of a university in a Palestinian community in Israel will be a useful weapon in its arsenal against the growing pressure for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS), especially on US campuses.

This is one of Zaatry’s concerns. He observed: “Israel’s reasoning for advancing a university in Nazareth is at least in part Zionist: to show how democratic Israel is and to silence its critics. That is useful in fighting BDS.”

The fight for autonomy

And then there is the matter of educational autonomy. Palestinian leaders in Israel have been lobbying for funding for a university in a Palestinian community, ideally one that offers courses in Arabic, since the early 1980s.

This has been a priority for several reasons.

The Palestinian population is heavily under-represented in Israeli higher education because of a raft of discriminatory practices, including psychometric tests and exam score-weighting that skew results towards Hebrew-speakers.

Many potential Arab students are also deterred from pursuing higher education in Israel when faced with the inevitable culture shock and educational disadvantage of entering an exclusively Hebrew-speaking environment.

In addition, the location of colleges only in Jewish communities makes finding accommodation extremely difficult for Palestinian students, both because of the practice of reserving dormitory places for former soldiers and because private landlords are averse to renting property to Palestinian citizens.

And finally, an Arab university is regarded as a vital necessity in helping young women from more conservative, especially religious, families break into higher education. Israeli officials have long been advised that such families are loath to allow daughters to live away from home when it requires moving to a Jewish community, where moral standards are seen as laxer.

As a result, only 11 per cent of the student body is from the Palestinian minority, even though Palestinian citizens account for about quarter of the age group that dominates Israeli higher education. The problem has become especially acute in recent years, with a third of all Palestinian students now opting to study abroad, usually in Jordan, rather than struggle through the many obstacles placed in their way in Israel.

Nonetheless, said Zaatry, efforts by the Palestinian leadership in Israel to make higher education more attractive have been consistently stymied by Israeli education officials.

In 2003 Elias Chacour, the Greek Catholic archbishop of the Galilee, set up a small college, Mar Elias, in his hometown of Ibilin. Spurned by the Israeli Council for Higher Education (CHE), Chacour, a Nobel peace prize nominee, made a deal with Indianapolis University, a private Methodist school, to become an overseas campus.

Despite this assistance, Mar Elias was constrained by funding difficulties and a series of Israeli bureaucratic restrictions. It remained a tiny college, teaching a few dozen students, until it closed in 2009, when Israel outlawed arrangements of the kind between Mar Elias and Indianapolis.

However, the core staff re-established the campus in Nazareth, this time as the independent Nazareth Academic Institute. Despite becoming the first Arab higher education institution ever to receive accreditation in Israel, the CHE immediately sought to hamper its operations.

A siege on Nazareth Institute

The Institute, which is allowed to offer just two degree courses, chemistry and communications, is the only recognised college of higher education in the Galilee denied state funding. Bishara Kattouf, one of the Institute’s directors, said: “It seemed clear that the Council [for Higher Education] refused funding because we are an Arab college. It has been a huge struggle to raise the money privately.”

(Image: Facebook)

(Image: Facebook)

It was also made a requirement of accreditation that the Institute run a compulsory course on “peace studies” for all students.

The OECD has been lobbying Israeli authorities to upgrade the Nazareth Institute’s status since 2010, without success.

That year the Institute’s president, George Knaza, admitted that the Council for Higher Education only agreed to recognise his college following a commitment that he not seek state assistance, “I guess the council hoped we’d die from lack of funding, but we have a very strong drive for life. If we want to develop and contribute to Arab society, we have to have state support. This should also be a state interest.”

In the meantime, while arguing there was no public money available for a university in Nazareth, the CHE upgraded Ariel College, making it the first university located in a settlement. Ariel is so deep inside the occupied territories that annexing its land to Israel would effectively cut the West Bank in two.

Ariel university, which the CHE has awarded a $125 million budget, has been encouraged to recruit Palestinian citizens from nearby communities inside Israel, such as Kafr Qassem, to blunt criticism that the university practises a form of apartheid by excluding Palestinians in the occupied territories from its programmes.

This summer, in an apparent effort to keep up the pressure on the Nazareth Institute, the CHE refused to award degrees to its first-ever graduating class. Kattouf said: “It’s ridiculous. We were told our financial situation is too unstable. But it is only unstable because the Council refuses to help us with funding.

“We have big ambitions for the Institute and there is a lot of local demand but without help from the state our development will always be very slow.”

Until now the CHE has also stood in the way of approving the building of a dedicated campus for the Institute. It has maintained its opposition even though a plot of land, on the lower slopes of the Mount of Precipice, is available and Munib al-Masri, a Palestinian tycoon from Nablus in the West Bank, has committed to funding the construction.

Largely overlooked in the coverage of the Texas A&M deal is the fact that the only way the US university can set up a campus in Israel is by partnering with an Israeli college, as degrees must be issued by the CHE to remain within Israeli law. Texas is therefore reliant on Nazareth Institute to make the agreement possible.

But equally the Institute needs Texas if it ever wants to solve its problems of funding, approval of a campus, and the ability to award degrees. Privately, Nazareth Institute officials admit they are in no position to resist the deal. It has been presented as a sink-or-swim offer.

Zaatry noted: “The government effectively waged a war of attrition against the Institute. It thought they wouldn’t survive long, given that they have to subsidise every student by 20,000 shekels [$5,600] a year. It has been surprised by their staying power.”

Nonetheless, there are real concerns about what will be left of the Nazareth Institute once the deal is implemented. It currently has about 120 students, compared with 58,000 at Texas A&M. After the merger, student numbers at the Nazareth campus are set to rocket to 10,000 within a decade. The suspicion is that the Nazareth Institute wil, be entirely subsumed, with Texas and the CHE calling the shots.

Suher Basharat, dean of students, has hinted that the new arrangement was far from the ideal solution. “We hoped and wanted to be an Israeli academic institution in every respect, not a branch [of a foreign university],” she told the Haaretz newspaper.

Dangerous downsides to deal

No one in Nazareth wants publicly to be seen opposing too strongly a project that is expected to bring to the city investment and potentially many jobs.

But there are growing suspicions that Israel may have preferred this option because, while it is likely to strengthen a small middle class within the Palestinian minority economically, it is also likely to have two significant negative repercussions. The deal will weaken the minority’s key ambition for cultural and educational autonomy, and it risks dangerously inflaming tensions and divisions along sectarian lines.

With the Texas deal secured, Israeli education officials have effectively averted the mounting pressure posed by the Nazareth Institute, as well as the Palestinian minority’s leaders and the OECD, to concede educational autonomy in the shape of an Arab university.

What the final arrangement between the Nazareth Institute and Texas will look like in practice is still far from clear. But the indications so far are that, in line with the signing ceremony, Texas and Israeli officials will reserve for themselves exclusive control. According to media reports, the language of tuition will be English, and Texas A&M will decide – presumably in conjunction with the CHE – on courses and on staff recruitment.

Having a university in Nazareth should – at least theoretically – make it easier for young Palestinian women to study, but it is unlikely to address another, more pressing concern. If Palestinian students feel deterred from higher education by the difficulties of studying in Hebrew, their second language, it is far from obvious they will be encouraged by the chance to study in their third or fourth language, English. Given that they will be competing with Israeli Jews and overseas students, they are likely to be at a distinct disadvantage.

The fear is that the Nazareth campus will do little to extend the number of Palestinian students entering higher education beyond the current narrow circle of those drawn from middle-class families already accessing higher education.

But even more disturbingly, the heavy influence of Christian Zionists on the agreement could have profound ramifications for Christian-Muslim relations in the city, which are already on a knife edge.

A history of divide and rule 

Nazareth, though a holy place to Christians, is a city with a two-thirds Muslim majority – one of the legacies of the 1948 war that established Israel by dispossessing and expelling Palestinians from their historic communities. A significant number of refugees from neighbouring Muslim villages fled to Nazareth for sanctuary, overnight altering its demographic balance.

Since then, Israel has repeatedly tried to inflame tensions between the two communities, especially in Nazareth.

The most notorious flare-up occurred in the city in the late 1990s, after the government – then, as now, led by Netanyahu – made an unprecedented decision to back a provocative scheme by a local group of Muslims to build a huge mosque in a public square next to Nazareth’s main Christian holy site, the Basilica of the Annunciation.

In fact, the government never issued the necessary planning permit and later went on to destroy the mosque’s foundations. But the damage had already been done: by Easter 1999 Christians and Muslims were fighting in the streets over control of the site.

Netanyahu seems again to be in the mood to stir up tensions, apparently as part of Israel’s long-standing divide-and-rule approach to Palestinians, both in Israel and the occupied territories.

His timing seems to have been inspired by the Arab Spring, with Israel now promoting a self-serving argument that Christians in Israel should wake up to the dangers of regional persecution from Muslims.

In August Netanyahu announced a new government initiative to end the exemption of Christians from serving in the Israeli military. Until now, only the small Druze community has served, with both Muslims and Christians refusing the draft.

On this view, as Azmi Hakim, leader of the Greek Orthodox community council in Nazareth argued, Christians are encouraged to identify with and seek protection from the Jewish state. “Israel is telling young Christians that the military will arm them and teach them how to fight. For some, it can be a seductive message.”

Muslims and many Christians are deeply concerned this could be the trigger for renewed strife between them.

‘Zionising’ Palestinian Christians

As part of Netanyahu’s meddling, he appears to be encouraging greater involvement from Christian Zionists in the region.

In the summer Bishara Shilyan, the brother of the Ministry of Defence’s adviser on Christian recruitment, established a Christian-Jewish political movement in Nazareth, the first-ever such party.

Hakim believes Shilyan is receiving funds from a group of local Palestinian Christians in the town of Kafr Yasif, north-west of Nazareth, who have allied themselves to Christian Zionism. Behind them, it is widely assumed, stands US Christian Zionist money.

Allison Deger reported in Mondoweiss last month on a venture by US Christian Zionists to sell small plots of land for $1,200 a time between Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee, as a way to strengthen an evangelical broadcasting network based in Jerusalem and Texas.

How the Holy Land Dream Company has acquired the plots, given that 93 per cent of land in Israel is state-owned and can only be leased by Jews, is so far unclear.

Other evangelical channels have recently established themselves in Jerusalem, including God-TV. It is working closely with the Jewish National Fund, a semi-governmental agency, to plant a forest in the Negev to displace Palestinian Bedouin from their ancestral lands.

Is the Christian Zionist team behind the Peace Campus in Nazareth – Pastor Hagee, Governor Perry and Chancellor Sharp – playing a tangential role in these developments?

One possibility is that Netanyahu and the Israeli right may hope to promote closer involvement by US evangelicals in the lives of the Palestinian Christian community in Israel. That could be potentially useful in undermining the revival of Palestinian nationalism inside Israel that followed the collapse of the Oslo Accords from 2000 onwards.

Palestinian Christians have traditionally been at the forefront of the Palestinian national movement, both in Israel and the occupied territories. They have thereby discredited claims from Israel that it stands on the fault line of a clash of civilisations between a Christian-Jewish west and a Muslim east.

The outlines of a possible Israeli strategy in response may be emerging, one that requires both strengthening the role of Christian Zionists in the Holy Land – with a university campus in the heartland of the Christian population in Israel – and demanding military service from local Christians.

That way, Netanyahu and the right may hope they can start to erode local Christians’ identification as Palestinians and generate new sources of conflict between the Christian and Muslim populations.

The “Zionisation” of local Christians would be a major achievement for the Israeli right. Not least it would clear the path for US evangelicals to claim they represent the true interests of Christians in the Holy Land.

Possibly even more importantly, it would isolate overseas churches that have traditionally shown solidarity with the Palestinians. Some of them are starting to take a lead in the promotion of the BDS campaign and what Israel characterises as a campaign of “delegitimisation” – another strong reason for Israel to want to recruit local Palestinian Christians to its cause.

The Nazareth campus may mark a change of tactic by Israel. But it seems the same cynical strategy is alive and kicking.

About Jonathan Cook

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His new website is jonathan-cook.net.
Posted in Israel Lobby, Israel/Palestine, Israeli Government, US Politics | Tagged

{ 40 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. BillM says:

    Thanks for the great article. I’ve been very interested in learning the back-story on this, and the fact that the deal was negotiated in secret is very telling.

    I think it’s also interest to note Tizpi Livni’s recent quote acknowledging Israel’s fear that it is having trouble keeping Palestinians inside Israel under control, much less those in the West Bank. She acknowledged Israel’s annexation even inside the Green Line is weak:

    In this context of priorities, she prefers the Galilee, Kiryat Shemona, Tiberias and the Negev to “isolated settlements outside of the blocs that won’t be part of any future diplomatic agreement,” she said. “Instead of annexing settlements outside the blocs to Israel and becoming an isolated and ostracized country, I prefer, socially, culturally and economically, to annex the Galilee and the Negev to Israel.

  2. Blownaway says:

    How do these Christians reconcile this from YosinSarid in today’s Haaretz “And anyone who hasn’t seen the Christians who live among us – how they are spat on, how they and their messiah are taunted, how their churches are set on fire and their monuments shattered. And President Shimon Peres will continue to speak of freedom of worship, and Yair Lapid will wax lyrical about “Jerusalem as an idea.”

    • bilal a says:

      This will backfire on Israel. There is a large Muslim Arabic speaking community in Texas who will study there, and Israel will not be able to keep them out once they are enrolled in the Texas system. Secondly, once Christian Evangelicals are inside the West bank , traveling through Israel, their eyes will be opened to the reality of Zionist (and anti-Zionist) Israeli bigotry against Christians.

      This will be a Trojan Horse if it ever happens, which I doubt seriously. In the interim, it will be a scam for fund raising for Hagee and AIPAC.

  3. Ellen says:

    Without more details it is difficult to see where the Texas A&M/Nazareth campus will go.

    Texas A&M is a huge public University, mostly supported by the tax payers of Texas and it’s huge endowment. They will not dip into this unless it is payed for by someone else. Will the Israeli government support it into the future? The Israeli gas industry?

    From the article, it seems that it will initially be dependent upon the activities of that hate monger, Hagee. Fund-raising will be undertaken at least in part by US evangelicals, led by John Hagee. Who will provide the rest? Tuition? Texans?

    It sounds shaky and without sustainable serious commitment beyond Hagee and his mega “church.”

    As an aside, Texas A&M was the first University to open a campus in Qatar. (They needed trained oil and gas engineers.) It is primarily funded by the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development. It has been a great deal for Texas.

    link to qatar.tamu.edu

    • BillM says:

      It will likely be initially funded by Israel and donors such as Hagee, then subsequently it will be quietly moved into the university’s regular budget, thus being subsidized by university student tuition. That’s usually how universities run vanity projects in Texas.

    • Walid says:

      “As an aside, Texas A&M was the first University to open a campus in Qatar.”

      A helping hand from the rich cousins to avoid having to be bailed out by the parachuted Texas A&M would have been greatly appreciated by the Nazareth Institute. Couldn’t an Arab university have gotten into a similar deal with the Nazareth Institute, or would Israel have blocked it?

      • Ellen says:

        Walid, in all honesty what University or institute? Cairo is too poor. Qatar University is still establishing itself. link to qu.edu.qa

        King Faisal University, link to kfu.edu.sa while a rich and interesting institution is from KSA, which does not recognize Israel.

        Other than the Christian Fundamentalist Hagee and his connection with Texas politicos who are using the public institution for their own personal agendas, I do not see what is in this for Texas A&M down the road.

        And while it might be initially a vanity project as Bill points out, that and the perhaps dubious agendas are not enough– I’d think — to sustain Texas A&M bankrolling this into the future.

        • Walid says:

          “Cairo is too poor. Qatar University is still establishing itself.”

          Qatar is most generous to Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank and every other Arab country. From the article, what’s most needed now is not expertise at running Nazareth Inst. but simply the cash to keep it going as a fully Palestinian institution.

          I don’t see anything positive for the Palestinians by Texas A&M coming to Nazareth. Most probably cheap Palestinian labour would be used in the construction, but with an announced opening date of only a year away, it doesn’t sound like a substantial project for now. Israelis coming to work on the project in Nazareth would most probably truck in their own food and water to not encourage the city’s commerce. At present, tourists coming to visit Nazareth are being discouraged by the Israeli tour operators from spending the night there so I don’t see Israel going out of its way to help the Christians of the city with this project. This has all the trappings of a gimmick to attract American funding because of the Jesus connection to the city and to ease out the Christian population. Wouldn’t be surprised if dorms and other services for the university would be built not in Nazareth itself but in the neighbouring racist town of Nazareth Illit.

          • Ellen says:

            Walid, , all good points. Nazareth institute has the expertise, but little funding. This is the kind of established institution/project the Qatar foundation gets behind. Would it have even been possible?

            That the Nazareth foundation was kept complexly out of the loop says a lot about the motivations of those pulling the strings and their motivations for the Texas A&M project in Nazareth.

  4. Of all the things, Perry, and Hagee and Netanyahu do, building a Texas A&M campus in Nazareth has to be placed toward the positive end of the spectrum. For those who oppose these three on many political and cultural issues, you’d have to acknowledge that it is better than a poke in the eye.

    • seafoid says:

      Even if this turns out well it is not going to turn hasbara around. The Israeli system that dehumanises and dispossesses is the ur problem. One uni or a Bar Refaeli Hustler centerfold are not going to change the catastrophe dynamic of Zionism.

    • Elliot says:

      @David. Fair enough and, for the sake of the students, I hope the project succeeds and grows.
      But it still highlights the structural problem of the Jewish state. In Israel, Jewish universities are endowed by wealthy American Jews, Arab universities go to the American Christians. Israel is still the project of Judeo-Christian Zionists overseas.

  5. ckg says:

    Texas A&M’s most accomplished alumni are Rep. Louie Gohmert, Rep. Joe Barton, and Gov. Rick Perry. Isn’t this sufficient evidence for revocation of accreditation?

    • Citizen says:

      Actually, Johnny Football is graduating Texas A & M this year. He’s more accomplished then any of those thick political hacks. Perry reminds me of Jethro in that old tv series Beverly Hillbillies, grown old.

    • oneof5 says:

      “Texas A&M’s most accomplished alumni are Rep. Louie Gohmert, Rep. Joe Barton, and Gov. Rick Perry. Isn’t this sufficient evidence for revocation of accreditation?”

      In spades … and then some …

  6. Mike_Konrad says:

    Bringing in some Texas Oil Cowboys is a great idea.

    The Mideast needs some hard drinking Baptists (In Texas, this is not a contrdiction). I hope they make converts as well.

    All in favor of it.

    I wonder if the Israelis realize that Texans believe in gun rights.

  7. stevelaudig says:

    I am curious as to the history of racism at this public university in the former confederate southern united states. Texas can’t even educate its own very well if national US ratings are to be believed.

  8. ritzl says:

    Hmm. A Texas university, creating an extension in the birthplace of Jesus, in Israel, teaching in English, financed by Christian fundies. Sounds like an idyllic description of a hypothetical Liberty U junior year abroad program.

    This branch is either going to be academically free and succeed for Palestinians in the way the OECD is requiring, or Palestinians will be defined out of its admissions and academics and it fails quickly.

    Great article, btw.

    • Mike_Konrad says:

      A Texas university, creating an extension in the birthplace of Jesus,

      Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea and Samaria.

      It is okay, we all make gaffes. :)

      • tree says:

        Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea and Samaria.

        It is okay, we all make gaffes. :)

        Well, still not quite right. The Bethlehem that we all know about was in ancient Judea. Samaria was a totally different province to its north so obviously Bethlehem couldn’t be in both provinces at the same time.

        And ritzl may be more correct than you give him or her credit for. According to Aviram Oshri, an archeologist with the Israeli Antiquities Authority, there is no evidence that the Judean Bethlehem existed at the time of Jesus’ birth. He believes, and has archaeological evidence to support, that Jesus was born in a different Bethlehem, a small village known as Bethlehem of the Galilee, just 3 or so miles from Nazareth. It of course was in Galilee, the northernmost Roman province, not Judea or Samaria.

        link to npr.org

        • puppies says:

          Anyway it is not in “and”.

        • LeaNder says:

          Bethlehem in Hebrew means “house of bread,” a common name for settlements with mills capable of producing fine flour, rather than the coarse grade most Israelites used for their daily needs. In 1975, amid the musty damp, and badly lit back shelves of the University Library in Cambridge, I first learned of a Galilean Bethlehem, near Nazareth, from an obscure study of the Talmud published during the nineteenth century. I was surprised at the dearth of discussion of this place in New Testament studies as the possible site of Jesus’ birth, especially since a northern Bethlehem is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible (Joshua 19:15).

          Conscious of how easily a new idea can be rejected, I was intrigued but wary. The Talmud was composed centuries after Jesus lived and the book of Joshua centuries beforehand, so one cannot assume they actually reflect Galilee’s geography in this time. I appended my findings to my Ph.D. thesis (although some of my professors were bemused that I used the Talmud to understand the Gospels) and let the matter rest. Now, however, archaeological excavations show that Bethlehem in Galilee is a first-century site just seven miles from Nazareth, so my former reserve can be put aside. There is good reason to surmise that the Bethlehem to which Matthew refers is in Galilee.

          Bruce Chilton, Rabbi Jesus, p. 8-9. He puts the choice of birthplace into the larger mamzer, “bastard”, “mongrel” debate.

          • Walid says:

            “Bethlehem in Hebrew means “house of bread,”

            And Arabs would tell you it means “house of meat” but in actuality, it’s from neither a bakery nor a deli. It’s after the Aramaic House of Laham, the Canaanite’s God of Sustenance; I guess bread and meat would sort of fall in that category. Canaanites were on the land 15 centuries before the first Hebrews arrived there.

    • LeaNder says:

      ritzl, absolutely great article. I agree. Solidly sound reporting, not only on the event but on the political context too.

      Jonathan Cook wrote the introduction of Hatim Kanaaneh’s book A Doctor in Galilee. I seem to remember that he lives there too, so he is somewhat an insider. Yes Wikipedia confirms that: Since September 2001, Cook has been a freelance writer based in Nazareth, Israel.[4]

  9. Citizen says:

    It’s a pity Hagee “Christians” are doing this, not normal Christian groups, who, it often seems, never even think of Christian when they hear the world “Palestinian.”

  10. Icarusverum says:

    Texas A&M is long regarded a laughing stock relative to education unless you’re talking about something to do with livestock or farming … in which case they’re quite good.

    The A&M “Aggies” and their program has long been the step-child of the Texas public university system when compared to other Texas public institutions such as UT and Texas Tech. Texas A&M is on par with the University of Houston and that’s not a compliment.

    Furthermore – for all of this interest by A&M and funding by the Hagees of the world … Nazareth can negotiate the very important details.

    If A&M doesn’t agree to the things they need then the university can find new suitors since Israel has already opened the door for this option. Just find another non-A&M option which there are many. If Israel resists – they’re back on the hot seat.

    Nazareth doesn’t have to be dictated to like they’re a dog thankful for what their master gives them; they can be smart and cunning. It reminds me of a Trojan Horse.

    So make it impossible to be a Trojan Horse. Studies in Arabic. Palestinian students need only apply regardless of their religion.

    Nazareth can lay out their markers. Because in the end – this isn’t a gift for the Palestinians … it’s an agenda for Israel. One need only look at who’s bringing the money.

  11. talknic says:

    Can anyone tell me how, when and by agreement with whom the territory in which Nazareth sits became sovereign to Israel?

    It has been illegal to acquire territory by war since at least 1933 link to pages.citebite.com and Israel has never legally annexed any territory outside of its proclaimed and recognized frontiers of May 15th 1948 link to google.com

    • Ellen says:

      Is it legal for a US University — that receives significant Federal funding and grants — to fund and build facilities with Israel on illegally occupied territories?

    • Talkback says:

      Can anyone tell me how, when and by agreement with whom the territory in which Nazareth sits became sovereign to Israel?

      It seems strange that you ask this question, but don’t include all of Israel. Was Nazareth ‘incorporated’ different than the rest? Was there any agreement with the gentile citizens of Palestine and a referendum under which rule they want to live, considering the fact that the Jewish Paletinians were even a minority in the territory they proclaimed statehood?

      • talknic says:

        Talkback “It seems strange that you ask this question, but don’t include all of Israel. “

        What happens within the sovereign extent of Israel now it exists is up to the citizens of Israel to determine. As with Sth Africa one can’t intervene. BDS is an option.

        “Was Nazareth ‘incorporated’ different than the rest? “

        Yes, it was illegally acquired by war by an existing state (Israel)
        Israel exists because it was declared link to knesset.gov.il and;
        Its sovereign extent proclaimed link to trumanlibrary.org and;
        Its sovereign extent recognized as proclaimed link to jstor.org
        link to trove.nla.gov.au
        link to google.com.au etc and;
        Even by Israel link to pages.citebite.com

        It didn’t include any territories outside those recommended by UNGA res 181 link to wp.me

        “Was there any agreement with the gentile citizens of Palestine and a referendum under which rule they want to live…etc”

        No. Even Balfour questioned the notion of partition // “The contradiction between the letters of the Covenant [of the League of Nations] and the policy of the Allies is even more flagrant in the case of the ‘independent nation’ of Palestine than in that of the ‘independent nation‘ of Syria. For in Palestine we do not propose to even go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country though the American Commission is going through the form of asking what they are.” link to google.com.au //

        • Talkback says:

          Yes, it was illegally acquired by war by an existing state (Israel)

          The “state” acquired the whole territory only by war before the proclamation and not by any consent or formal transfer by any Goverment of Palestine or the majority of its citizens. There’s no difference between the way the territory was acquired in which statehood was proclaimed or Nazareth. Not a iota.

          But I also think that your argument is not coherent. If you think that proclamation is the key, than you imply that Israel would have had the right to even claim statehood in all of Palestine, not only within partition borders. If you think that recognition is the key, then Israel is recognized by now within 67 lines by most of the world and not only within partition borders.

          I don’t recognize Israel in any part of Palestine. It is an antigentile Junta which was established by war, terrorism, massacres and expulsion in the absence of a goverment and law and order and against the will of the majority of the Gentile citizens of Palestine and even within the territory it proclaimed statehood. It never had any internal legitimation or was the result of a referendum of ALL of its rightful future citizens and exists only, because it illegaly keeps Gentiles expelled and stripped them of their legal right to citizenship including their descendants.

          • talknic says:

            @Talkback “The “state” acquired the whole territory only by war before the proclamation”

            A) the “state” didn’t exist before the declaration came into effect at 00:01 May 15th 1948 (ME time)

            “MY DEAR MR. PRESIDENT: I have the honor to notify you that the state of Israel has been proclaimed as an independent republic within frontiers approved by the General Assembly of the United Nations in its Resolution of November 29, 1947, and that a provisional government has been charged to assume the rights and duties of government for preserving law and order within the boundaries of Israel, for defending the state against external aggression, and for discharging the obligations of Israel to the other nations of the world in accordance with international law. The Act of Independence will become effective at one minute after six o’clock on the evening of 14 May 1948, Washington time.link to trumanlibrary.org

            B) the civil war prior to the state’s existence was not the doing of the State of Israel, even though the same Jewish leaders and Jewish forces were involved in the civil war.

            C) the civil war exacerbated by Plan Dalet prior to statehood, became a war waged by the State of Israel on what remained of Palestine at precisely 00:01 May 15th 1948 (ME time) the moment Israel’s declaration took effect. Which is why;

            D) There are no UNSC resolutions condemning any Regional Arab Power for having intervened in Palestine even though (except for Transjordan) they were all UN Member states.

            “If you think that proclamation is the key, than you imply that Israel would have had the right to even claim statehood in all of Palestine, not only within partition borders”

            Israeli Government statements post declaration confirm Israel’s recognized sovereign extent as being the territories recommended in UNGA res 181. link to pages.citebite.com NB: territories “outside the State of Israel”

            “If you think that recognition is the key, then Israel is recognized by now within 67 lines by most of the world and not only within partition borders”

            I’ve yet to see one instance of official recognition. It would be illegal

            1933 Montevideo Convention of the Rights and duties of States

            ARTICLE 11

            The contracting states definitely establish as the rule of their conduct the precise obligation not to recognize territorial acquisitions or special advantages which have been obtained by force whether this consists in the employment of arms, in threatening diplomatic representations, or in any other effective coercive measure. The territory of a state is inviolable and may not be the object of military occupation nor of other measures of force imposed by another state directly or indirectly or for any motive whatever even temporarily. link to pages.citebite.com

            This is affirmed by UNSC res 242 and numerous other resolutions aka ‘It is inadmissible to acquire territory by war’

    • Citizen says:

      @ talknic
      This is so historically true, yet I’ve never heard it mentioned by the mainstream media or the cable TV media, not by anyone ouside the alternative media and the internet. You think Kerry, and Obama, for instance, or any congress critter actually knows this? If they do, I ‘m frightened.

      • Talkback says:

        A) the “state” didn’t exist before the declaration came into effect at 00:01 May 15th 1948 (ME time)

        That’s why I put state in quotation marks. But if there’s a need to rephrase:

        The Jewish separatists acquired the whole territory for their future state (besides the 6% they privately owned) only by war and expulsion. There’s no difference between the way this territory was acquired or Nazareth.

        But your claim is that Nazareth was somehow acquired different (that is illegaly) than the rest of the territory in which statehood was proclaimed and B.) to D) is irrelevant to the point of issue. So what is the difference?

        I’ve yet to see one instance of official recognition.

        It is expressed in the support of a two state solution based on 1967 lines and the acception of (at least) West-Jerusalem to be a part of Israel or only East-Jerusalem considered to be occupied.

        This is affirmed by UNSC res 242 and numerous other resolutions aka ‘It is inadmissible to acquire territory by war’

        Again, how did Jewish separatists acquire besides Nazareth the territory for their state else then by war and without any formal consent from all citizens of Palestine or at least from all of the future citizens of “the state for the Jews” in which Jews were a minority and about half of them not even citizens of and without any right to self determination in Palestine?

        • talknic says:

          Talkback “The Jewish separatists acquired the whole territory for their future state (besides the 6% they privately owned) only by war and expulsion.”

          A) They ‘controlled’ the whole territory (per UNGA res 181) for their future state by civil war and expulsion. They also controlled territory outside that allotted for the Jewish state. However it was not proclaimed as Israeli and as never been recognized as Israeli.

          B) They privately owned ‘real estate’ which is not ‘territory’. The owned ‘real estate’ was miniscule compared to the ‘territory’ of the state, allotted completely gratis.

          “There’s no difference between the way this territory was acquired or Nazareth”

          In legal terms there is a difference. The territory of the state was acquired per UNGA res 181, by a declaration of sovereign independence. Nazareth and other territories “outside the State of Israel” were illegally acquired by war by the State of Israel.

          // I’ve yet to see one instance of official recognition //

          It is expressed in the support of a two state solution based on 1967 lines

          Has yet to happen.

          “and the acception of (at least) West-Jerusalem to be a part of Israel or only East-Jerusalem considered to be occupied”

          The 1948 illegal acquisition of territories “outside the State of Israel” occurred before Israel became a UN Member state. A club cannot censure non members, so there is no UNSC resolution condemning it. There are no UNSC resolutions that name “Israel” before it became a UN Member State.

          Nor has Israel attempted to annex those territories either before becoming a UN Member state or after. So there is no UNSC censure for something they haven’t yet done.

          Israel’s 31st Aug 1949 claim to those territories link to unispal.un.org was rebuffed, citing the Armistice Agreements link to domino.un.org

          The occupation of East Jerusalem and unilateral annexation of East Jerusalem occurred after Israel became a UN Member state, that is why there is UNSC censure (UNSC res 242 and UNSC res 252 and its 8 reminders)

          Territories now “outside the State of Israel” from 1948 and 1967 and since and territories the Palestinians might eventually cede to Israel in negotiations will eventually HAVE to be legally annexed to Israel before they can be recognized as Israeli.

          “Again, how did Jewish separatists acquire besides Nazareth the territory for their state else then by war and without any formal consent from all citizens of Palestine or at least from all of the future citizens of “the state for the Jews” in which Jews were a minority and about half of them not even citizens of and without any right to self determination in Palestine?”

          Whether we like it or not, by controlling it and declaring it and by it being recognized by the majority of the Comity of Nations.

          It was controlled before declaration in a civil war. Only after declaration did the State of Israel come into existence.

      • Talkback says:

        @ Citizen

        It is irrelevant if one implies that recognition equals entitlement (which it doesn’t) and the world recognizes Israel within 1967 line as expressed in a two state solution based on this line and considers at least West-Jerusalem if not all of it to be a part of Israel.

      • talknic says:

        Citizen “You think Kerry, and Obama, for instance, or any congress critter actually knows this? “

        Of course they do. They have teams of legal advisers who’d be well aware that:

        A) by the US adopting the ‘legal custom’ of annexing territory via an agreement as far back as Texas in the 1850′s and later annexing Hawaii and Alaska by the ‘legal custom’ of having an agreement, the USA was instrumental in that ‘legal custom’ passing into ‘Customary’ International Law, thereby making it ‘inadmissible to acquire territory by war’ (UNSC res 242) or unilateral annexation (UNSC res 252 & eight reminders)

        B) the US was a signatory to the Montevideo Convention 1934, making it ‘inadmissible to acquire territory by war’

        C) the US was the first state to recognize Israel as it asked to be recognized, per UNGA res 181

        D) the US itself has never given formal recognition to Israeli sovereignty over any territories acquired by war “outside the state of Israel”

        They know! It’s why the US abstains from voting on Chapt VI resolutions concerning Israel. It is illegal for a UN Member state to vote against a resolution reaffirming and/or emphasizing predetermined International Law, Customary International Law (all law is binding) and/or the UN Charter (binding in its entirety) and/or relative binding Conventions (which, if adopted as a legal custom by the majority of states automatically pass into Customary International Law)

        However, because the ‘actions’ the UNSC ‘might take’ under Chapt VII resolutions are not predetermined by or set in law, the five permanent UNSC members can veto Chapt VII resolutions.

        The US UNSC veto vote only allows the frog to stay in the pot. Palestine having confirmed recognition as a state by being accepted into UNESCO, has turned up the heat.

        The only way out of the pot for the frog is while it has the US UNSC veto vote, to force a negotiated a deal with the Palestinians in order to circumvent the legal consequences of having 65 years of illegal facts on the ground.

        Were Israel to face the consequences of its 65 years of illegal facts on the ground in territories “outside the State of Israel” it would:

        A) be sent bankrupt for decades attempting to pay billions upon billions in rightful reparations while;

        B) spending billions upon billions attempting to evacuate and rehouse in Israel hundreds of thousands of disgruntled and disillusioned Israelis who don’t want to become citizens of Palestine and who’re suddenly realizing they have been duped by successive Israeli Governments into believing they had a right to settle in territories “outside the state of Israel”. A situation which would very likely turn into;

        C) a civil war but in territories “outside the state of Israel” and;

        D) a civil war being in territories “outside the State of Israel” would give just cause for the other Regional Powers and their allies (imagine Russia, tho I doubt it would) to intervene as the Arab states did in 1948 when Jewish/Israeli forces were in territories “outside the State of Israel”

        Israel is using the US UNSC veto vote to blackmail the Palestinians into accepting Israel’s demands, none of which have any legal basis.

        Israel has no legal right to more secure/defensible borders that its neighbours
        No legal right to demand recognition of any kind, let alone as the Jewish state
        No legal right to any territories “outside the state of Israel”
        Israel has ONLY the US UNSC veto vote, which is why the lobby in the US is so relentless.

        Now adhering to the law after 65 years ignoring it, would result in a failed state. That is what is at stake.
        All the settlement investment, wiped out.
        Infrastructure contracts, wiped out.
        Billions of dollars down the drain and a huge loss of the resources it has be illegally using to generate income. All wiped out.
        A lot of egg on the Jewish state’s face and a lot of really pissed off investors

        The frog can only get out of the pot thru negotiations while it has the US UNSC veto vote. Meanwhile the Palestinians are under no legal obligation what so ever to relinquish any of their legal rights.

        However, instead of taking advantage of the US UNSC veto vote while they have it in order to end the conflict, instead of accepting the Palestinians incredibly generous offer to accept only 22% of their rightful territories, Israel’s leaders demand more and more.

        They are quite insane!

        • Talkback says:

          Talknic: In legal terms there is a difference. The territory of the state was acquired per UNGA res 181, by a declaration of sovereign independence. Nazareth and other territories “outside the State of Israel” were illegally acquired by war by the
          State of Israel.

          181 was only a recommendation, not a legal, but a political solution which was rejected by the majority of the citizens of Palestine and the Security Council who was requested to implement it and which asked all parties to abstain from politcal actions (like declaring independence) in Sec Res 46 (d), 17 April 1948. All of of Palestine was illegaly acquired by war and without any consent from the majority of the citizens of Palestine.

          Nor has Israel attempted to annex those territories either before becoming a UN Member state or after.

          It did so de facto by illegaly putting those under its civil administration and law instead of administrating them as such under military law of occupation. Israel put only its Gentile citizens under military law until 1966. It would have been easier for the Gentile citizens of Israel to make a legal case for remedial secession, because their rights were fundamentally violated, but not for the Jewish citizens of Palestine.

  12. piotr says:

    This is truly weird. The president of A&M, the institution most famous of it football team and “Aggie jokes”, negotiated to take over “Nazareth Academic Institute” and expand it as a branch of A&M. So I thought that before commenting I should find what NAI is. In 21st century it should be simplicity itself. Even minor and obscure institutions like “Government of Island of Bouganville in Exile” have their websites that can be located using a search engine. But so far I had no luck with NAI. I found this hit on some Hebrew language site that probably lists colleges in Israel:

    “The institution commenced its operation as “Mar Elias Campus” – the branch of the University of Indianapolis, USA. In March 2009, the Council for Higher Education granted the academic institution a permit to open an institution of higher education and open a program of study leading to a bachelor’s degree in chemistry.”

    Apparently, the branch is at best a branchlet, I did not find any website, any info how many students does it have, how to get admission and so on. But some people gave talks on its subject so I could see a photo “students of Nazareth Academic Institute”, about 30 of them posing for a group photo.

    It is safe to say that NAI is a tiny outfit, and its presence on the www is curiously limited to public relation that supports Israel. The plans of A&M are very vague, but it is clearly some combination of PR (photo ops with the governor of Texas, president of Israel), fundraising and a wee bit of education. At least, this is the template of A&M Doha.

  13. kma says:

    of course dividing Palestinians is cherry for Israel, so clearly on the agenda, but what else? is there something strategic about carving the land at that point? it will “belong” to the Israeli government, effectively. and those leased mini-plots? how do they benefit Israel’s plan of isolating shrinking Palestinian areas?
    I don’t believe Israel or any US zionist intends to help any non-zionist get an education, so I’d expect all the usual tricks that keep Palestinians out of Israeli universities, and if Israel’s goals are met without educating anyone, then that won’t matter. I am curious, though, beyond land appropriation and killing Arab universities and dividing Palestinians, what is going on?
    the religious right in the US is not AT ALL concerned with Christian holy sites. they also don’t see traditional Christians as “christian” at all. they would just as soon kill Catholics and stomp on their dead bodies. the zionist evangelicals are roughly 100 years in the making, very new “churches”, and what I see of them first-hand is that they think of themselves as “Hebrews”, the new “chosen” tribe, and are far more obsessed with what the bible says about their bloated egos going to heaven with the old testament bunch than anything Jesus said or did. they LOVE thinking that God loves them to be rich and selfish and that God decides EVERYTHING so that they don’t have to think. (which is one reason they will never be a majority. you have to use drugs to shut off that many brains.)
    my opinion is that US zionists would like to take on the title of defenders of “christian” holy land, and let Israel bulldoze the ancient orthodox sites. just a bunch of really old rocks and stuff anyway, and those non-zionist churches that share the original holy sites are going to hell if you listen to what the neo-christians say.
    I listen to what they tell me. that’s how it sounds to me. anyone else??