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Brandeis damaged itself by suspending relationship with Nusseibeh, Ratner says in resigning from board

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Sari Nusseibeh

Sari Nusseibeh

The Forward today published this open letter from Michael Ratner to Brandeis president Fred Lawrence, resigning from Brandeis’s international advisory board, under the headline, “Brandeis Shouldn’t Cut Ties to Palestinian University.” Ratner’s decision was prompted by Brandeis suspending its relationship with Al Quds University and its president, Sari Nusseibeh. (For news coverage of the background events, see this piece and this one.)

Michael Ratner

Michael Ratner

Ratner is a friend, but who is not moved by the fact that he is leaving a school that helped form him as an activist, where he heard Marcuse, Malcolm X, Allen Ginsberg, and Paul Goodman speak when he was a young man, but which cannot tolerate a moderate Palestinian, Sari Nusseibeh. The letter:

Dear President Lawrence:

By this letter I am resigning from the advisory board of the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life at Brandeis. While I appreciate that you were willing to reappoint me for another term, I do not feel my service on that board is compatible with your suspension of Dr. Sari Nusseibeh, the President of Al-Quds University, from that board. In addition, in light of your suspension of Dr. Nusseibeh and of Brandeis’ relationship with Al-Quds, I will not be making further donations to Brandeis. My reasons, which I am making public, are set forth below.

On November 18, 2013, at your direction, Brandeis suspended its longtime partnership (since 2003) with Al-Quds, a Palestinian university located in Jerusalem, Palestine. At the same time, you suspended the President of Al-Quds, Sari Nusseibeh, from the advisory board of the Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life at Brandeis, a board on which I also serve. I profoundly disagree with both of these actions. I believe that you have seriously harmed important exchanges that offered at least some hope for better understanding among the Brandeis and Al-Quds communities. As a result of your precipitous action, you have also besmirched the reputation of President Nusseibeh, a well-known scholar who has spent his life working for a peaceful solution between Palestine and Israel.

While I feel that your decision requires me to take these actions, I do so with some reluctance, because of my long association with Brandeis. As you are aware, I was an alumnus of Brandeis from the 1960’s and attended during the time of the civil rights movement and the beginning of the Vietnam War protests. The school began to open my eyes to liberal and progressive politics. It was a place of intense discussion and debate with professors like Herbert Marcuse and speakers such as Malcolm X, Allen Ginsberg and Paul Goodman. As I said when Brandeis gave me the 2006 Alumni Achievement Award, “Those years really changed my life. It’s clear that Brandeis is where I became an activist.” In 2006, I was also appointed to the advisory board of the Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life which is involved with the Al-Quds relationship.

My understanding of the background to your actions is informed by a report requested by you and issued by three Brandeis faculty who visited Al-Quds a few days after the November 5, 2013 rally which ultimately precipitated the chain of events that led to the suspension of the relationship with Al-Quds and of President Nusseibeh from the board. I note that you suspended President Nusseibeh before you even received the report.

In response to the demonstrators’ conduct at the rally, President Nusseibeh issued a statement exhorting students and others to act in a way that promotes mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and the exchange of ideas. You, nevertheless, claim that President Nusseibeh’s statement was “unacceptable and inflammatory.” The findings of the report mentioned above are at odds with this claim and your justification for taking the actions you did. While the report found that the November 5 rally, which was not endorsed by Al-Quds, violated the guidelines for such rallies, it also determined “that university officials responded promptly and appropriately by communicating to both internal and external constituencies that the rally violated university policies and principles.”

The report also pointed out that President Nusseibeh’s letter of November 17 regarding the November 5 rally expressed no “intolerance or hatred.” Rather, it “was 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.” The report disagreed with your suspension of President Nusseibeh from the board, stating that “this action does a serious disservice to a man with a long time record as a courageous man of letters and a man of peace.”

The report concluded with a call to Brandeis to resume and redouble its relationship with Al-Quds.

(As a parenthetical, the board disagreed with your suspension of President Nusseibeh which was implemented without notification to Richard J. Goldstone, the Chair of the Board.)

Subsequently, in early January, the three faculty returned to Al-Quds and met with more than twenty administrators and faculty from Al-Quds. The discussions were disturbing to say the least. The professors and administrators at Al-Quds were “very much surprised and hurt” by the suspension of the partnership and “particularly distressed that Brandeis would lend its name to what they saw as an effort to delegitimize Al-Quds University through accusations that it promotes or condones fascism and hatred,” especially as it worked with Israeli institutions.

Your treatment of Dr. Sari Nusseibeh upset everyone to whom they spoke. It was their view “that the most harmful result of Brandeis University’s actions was the damage to the reputation and dignity of their president wrought by the cumulative effect of the suspension of the partnership, of the language about Dr. Nusseibeh’s statement used on the website and repeated by the international press, and of the suspension of Dr. Nusseibeh from the advisory board of the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life.”

Yes, in some communities, especially those that have embraced stereotyped views of Palestinians, Dr. Nusseibeh’s reputation may have been harmed. But for those who understand a more nuanced picture of these events and are aware of what is occurring in Palestine and Israel, it is the reputation of Brandeis and yourself that have been damaged by these actions.

I cannot countenance these actions by you or Brandeis or be seen to endorse them by remaining on the board or continuing to support Brandeis. Apparently, even those Palestinians with the most moderate views are unacceptable partners and colleagues. That is unacceptable to me.

Sincerely yours,

Michael Ratner

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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11 Responses

  1. oldgeezer on May 28, 2014, 7:13 pm

    This is truly a sad state of affairs. I am not familiar with Professor Ratner. Perhaps I should be. I admire his courage to make a stand. The timing of events would indicate the presidents actions were one of revenge and not based on principle at all. Neither can I condone the students actions. If I ever meet Mr Ratner I will shake his hand for sure.

  2. on May 28, 2014, 7:17 pm

    Howard Zinn is dead! Long live Howard Zinn!

  3. Rusty Pipes on May 28, 2014, 7:53 pm

    How have President Lawrence’s relations been with major donors to Brandeis? Yehuda Reinharz is a tough act to follow: between 1994 and 2011, “he raised 1.2 billion dollars during his presidency and more than tripled the endowment.” Has the college fund-raiser-in-chief offered a credible academic reason for why he scratched a long-standing program with a Palestinian University without waiting for the results of an investigation?

    • marc b. on May 29, 2014, 9:05 am

      rusty, reinharz was an embarrassment and a grasping buffoon. he did raise a sizeable endowment, but brought on a shit storm of anger and ridicule when he tried to sell off the inventory of the on-campus art museum, causing threats of law suits by donors’ families (perhaps not so coincidentally his departure occurred simultaneously with the resolution of the museum dispute). more recently a bloated post-presidency golden parachute worth millions has caused even greater anger and a near revolt amongst professors. a friend of mine had sent along a chain email that was making the rounds among alumni. if I remember reinharz (or Lawrence) was described as having a sense of loyalty that extended the thickness of a dime. or something flattering like that.

      https://stefanbc.wordpress.com/2013/11/19/jehuda-reinharz-the-jackass-in-the-living-room/

  4. eljay on May 28, 2014, 8:16 pm

    I cannot countenance these actions by you or Brandeis or be seen to endorse them by remaining on the board or continuing to support Brandeis. Apparently, even those Palestinians with the most moderate views are unacceptable partners and colleagues. That is unacceptable to me.

    Kudos to Mr. Ratner.

  5. anonymouscomments on May 28, 2014, 10:43 pm

    The key phrase I was happy to see….
    ” located in Jerusalem, Palestine. “

  6. W.Jones on May 28, 2014, 11:13 pm

    I think some helpful observations have been made on the comment threads in the past on this topic since it began. One thing that impressed me was how the roman salute was and is used in much of the world, like the Middle East (eg. both sides of the Lebanese Civil War) and East Asia, as a normal salute, but that in the US and Western Europe it has been associated with the Nazis and thus naturally discontinued here. The point is that if Palestinian groups like the students in question have used it, it does not mean that they are doing so to emulate the Nazis. Yet, from the viewpoint of an American audience, this is exactly the initial impression that I expect Brandeis students would have, being unfamiliar with the salute’s continued use in normal settings in other societies. I would not want Brandeis students, solidarity activists, or others to have this confusion.

  7. Nevada Ned on May 28, 2014, 11:47 pm

    Jehuda Reinharz is an historian, and a biographer of Chaim Weizmann. Reinharz endorsed Joan Peters’ ridiculous book, From Time Immemorial, a book that claimed that nearly all the Palestinians moved there in the last few decades before 1948.
    Reinharz was only one of a large number of Jewish intellectuals who endorsed the Peters book: Elie Weisel, Saul Bellow, Bernard Lewis, the list goes on. Many of these people occupied positions of power in American life, yet they were never held to account for their part in this hoax. Some of the endorsers may have actually believed their own propaganda, but Reinharz knows better, because the early Zionists writers acknowledged the presence of the Palestinians. Reinharz, a mere historian when he endorsed the Peters hoax, rose to be a university president afterwards. The whole disgraceful episode certainly didn’t hurt *his* career any!!

  8. W.Jones on May 29, 2014, 12:21 am

    Good letter by Ratner.

  9. Walid on May 29, 2014, 8:00 am

    Did he do it for the donors or because of a natural dislike of Palestinians?

  10. John Salisbury on May 29, 2014, 3:17 pm

    Applaud your stance Mr Ratner

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