Three Brandeis professors have challenged the university’s president over his decision to suspend a partnership with Al Quds University following a disturbing demonstration at the Jerusalem school in early November led by a student group associated with Islamic Jihad.
In a report released two days ago, the professors– who saw a student hit by a rubber bullet fired by an Israeli soldier during an incursion on the campus November 17– say that the rally earlier that month was hateful but that Al Quds was dealing appropriately with it, and Brandeis should restore the 10-year-old partnership and “redouble” its interactions with the school precisely because Al Quds is so engaged in offering a moderate path in Palestine.
The report is extremely critical of Fred Lawrence, the Brandeis president, who had asked the three to look into the Al Quds situation because they happened to be visiting the school at the time of the controversy. They slam Lawrence for throwing Sari Nusseibeh, the Al Quds University president and someone many in Palestine consider Israel-friendly, off a Brandeis board in the wake of the November 5 demonstration:
We believe that this action does a serious disservice to a man with a longtime record as a courageous man of letters and a man of peace. It also violates the principle of maintaining dialogue even with those with whom we disagree.
The professors– Daniel Terris, Susan Lanser and Daniel Kryder– say that Fred Lawrence reacted in haste last month and thoughtlessly, failing to appreciate the political pressure that Al Quds is under in trying to educate people under military occupation and in seeking to allow the campus to reflect the viewpoints of its students.
The professors were evidently shocked by an Israeli military incursion onto the campus last month while they were there, firing teargas and rubber bullets.
Our view allowed us to see one student as he was hit by a rubber bullet and at least a dozen being treated by paramedics. We ourselves experienced the debilitating effects of riot control gas.
The professors report that Israeli soldiers frequently come on to the campus. They offer their president a lesson in occupation:
“In the months before the November 5 rally, there were frequent confrontations involving young Palestinian men (some of whom are students) and Israeli soldiers patrolling the area. On approximately four occasions this fall, Israeli soldiers responded to such events by firing tear gas into the campus, at least once sending many dozens of canisters into the university’s central quad.”
Defying Lawrence, who tossed Al Quds president Sari Nusseibeh from a Brandeis advisory board on November 21, the professors repeatedly laud Nusseibeh’s actions. They say that the university responded “promptly and appropriately” to the demonstration, which featured fascistic arm gestures and the trampling of the Israeli flag, by launching an investigation into it. They say the school was not in a position to crack down on the demonstration at the time because of the volatile political condition of a university trying to carry on under military occupation.
“[A] highly charged political atmosphere with a potential for violence led university security officials to determine that any intervention or confrontation carried serious risks.”
The subsequent statement from Nusseibeh that Fred Lawrence demanded that he issue and that so many felt wanting, in its lukewarm condemnation of the rally, cannot be understood outside the context of military occupation and the polarization of the campus over several military raids on Al Quds. The professors say, “In our view, the letter reflects a genuine effort of a University president to reach his students in prose chosen to engage them in productive conversations about the values of peace and mutual respect.” Even the description of the Holocaust as a “massacre,” which some in this country heard as a diminution, was an effort to explain Jewish history to Palestinians in a language they can relate to.
The professors conclude, “Our clear impression from the five days we spent at Al Quds University was of a leadership that was angry and appalled by the character of the November 5 rally and determined to counteract and prevent such gestures expressing hatred and activities promoting violence. What we heard and witnessed there was consistent with the spirit of cross cultural respect that has been a hallmark of the partnership from the beginning.”
By excommunicating Al Quds, Brandeis is playing into the hands of militants.
“Al Quds University is playing a courageous role in working for peace by engaging those minority factions in its midst that hold extremist views.”
The independent Brandeis student paper is the only outlet to have picked up this news.