Oppose reinstatement of University’s Al-Quds partnership
On Dec. 23, 2015, the Brandeis-Al-Quds Student Dialogue Initiative announced on its Facebook page that this March it will host five Palestinian Al-Quds students, one faculty member and one staff member at Brandeis. On the Initiative’s GoFundMe page, which will cover the remaining expenses, the Al-Quds delegation trip budget noted that the visit will be funded in part by a Karpf-Hahn Grant of $3,250 through the Brandeis Peace, Conflict and Coexistence Studies (PAX) program.
According to the program’s website, the award is intended to “enhance peace culture” and is bestowed upon applicants who “work toward coexistence.” In theory, any venture promoting dialogue between two contrasting demographics is educative and enlightening in nature. In fact, the partnership between a Jewish-sponsored American institution and a Palestinian institution served for years as an admirable demonstration that academic discourse between peoples harboring largely divergent views is feasible.
As such, the success of the partnership suggested that perhaps the requisite to securing a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict relies on the ability of individuals — rather than governments — to connect and share personal stories.
In 1998, then-president of Brandeis Jehuda Reinharz and then-president of Al-Quds Sari Nusseibeh first formalized the Brandeis-Al-Quds partnership. Until severed by Brandeis President Frederick Lawrence in 2013, the partnership had been of great value to both communities. Dialogue, cooperation and mutual understanding were among the mission and principles on which the crucial program had been established.
However, on Nov. 5, 2013, Al-Quds students marched around the main square “in black military gear with fake automatic weapons while waving flags and offering the traditional Nazi salute,” according to a Nov. 19, 2013 Times of Israel article. No visible opposition to this repugnant demonstration seemed to exist. After the frightening Nazi-esque demonstration, Lawrence requested that Nusseibeh issue an unequivocal denunciation of the event.
In a Nov. 17, 2013 statement, however, Nusseibeh dodged responsibility and effectively justified the deplorable incident by blaming the “extremism and violence” to which the Palestinian people are subjected — ostensibly by Israel — and a Jewish conspiracy determined to tarnish the university’s reputation. He continued to belittle the “massacre of the Jewish people in Europe” — by which he meant the Holocaust — by suggesting that the ultimate tragedy was the “enduring Palestinian catastrophe.” Curiously, he failed to mention the demonstration specifically, opting instead to refer to “fist-fighting between students, or some students making a mock military display.” As a result, President Lawrence deemed Nusseibeh’s statement “unacceptable and inflammatory” and suspended the partnership.
Just four months later, on Mar. 23, 2014, a black-masked group paraded the Al-Quds campus once again. They carried green Hamas flags and replicas of the rockets notoriously used to attack innocent civilians in Israel, according to a Mar. 25, 2014 Times of Israel article. Coincidentally, Nusseibeh resigned three days later.
Also in March of 2014, head of Al-Quds’ American Studies department, Professor Mohammed Dajani, took 27 of his students to Auschwitz to imbue within them “tolerance and empathy [for the Jewish people],” according to a June 10, 2014 Telegraph article.
According to the same article, upon Dajani’s return to Al-Quds, colleagues and students vilified him as a “traitor” and “collaborator.” The Al-Quds Staff Union also voted to fire him. In response to this denigration, Dajani resigned and asserted, “I put my job on the line to expose the double-talk we live. We [Al-Quds University] say we are for democracy and we practice autocracy, we say we are for freedom of speech and academic freedom, yet we deny people to practice it.”
More recent events at Al-Quds are disappointingly consistent with the atmosphere prior to and directly after the severance of the partnership. According to a Jan. 13, 2015 article in Blaze, last January, Al-Quds students produced a video gratuitously depicting the heinous murder of Jews — by what appeared to be Hamas-affiliated Palestinians — in order to incite terror among Jews and Israelis.
Moreover, on Oct. 3, 2015, Muhannad Halabi killed two Israeli men and seriously injured two others in Jerusalem’s old city. Halabi, a law student at Al-Quds, arbitrarily chose these victims just because of their Jewish and Israeli identities. Halabi was a member of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group, according to Agence France-Presse, and Hamas praised his attack as a “heroic operation.” According to the Palestinian news agency Donia Al-Watan, Surda-Abu Quash — the municipality where Halabi lived — named a street after the assailant shortly after his fatal stabbing of innocent civilians. Clearly, the Al-Quds culture of exalting terrorism is also reflected in Palestinian society at large.
Further, during this past holiday season, Al-Quds University displayed a martyr-themed Christmas tree; most of the photos and ornaments on the tree featured “prominent Palestinian terrorists killed carrying out attacks against Israelis,” according to a Dec. 9, 2015 Times of Israel article. Current Al-Quds President Imad Abu Kishk spoke at the tree’s unveiling, actively honoring “martyrs” — and therefore, by extension, participating in the celebration of terror and condoning the murder of innocent Israeli citizens.
In order for the partnership to be beneficial to both schools, Brandeis and Al-Quds must both champion freedom of speech on their respective campuses. Brandeis is ready for dialogue. Regrettably, according to Dajani and events surrounding the severance of the partnership, Al-Quds is not.
While the Brandeis-Al-Quds Student Dialogue Initiative has positive intentions, the proponents of the Initiative don’t seem to recognize the animosity and sheer abhorrence for Israelis and Jews that Al-Quds University perhaps breeds and certainly permits. Naturally, not every Al-Quds student fosters these views, but the extent of intolerance in Al-Quds University’s campus culture is alarming. By proposing that Brandeis University once again engage with the intolerant and largely bigoted campus and administration of Al-Quds University, the Initiative is actually antithetical to the PAX grant’s goal to “enhance peace culture.”
Some may argue that the presence of these disturbing realities necessitates even more an Al-Quds partnership with Brandeis. Proponents of this position may contend that the partnership is a valuable tool which may deradicalize certain features of the Al-Quds students and administration. While a genuine dialogue between the two campuses is a worthy goal, advocates of this thinking operate under a naïve, flawed premise that Brandeis students alone can easily solve such a complex conflict.
The students and administration of Brandeis University should not be associated with a university which, at the very least, is intolerant of its Jewish neighbors. Brandeis must retain its integrity and oppose the Brandeis-Al-Quds Student Dialogue Initiative until the Al-Quds administration officially ceases and renounces incitement of terror against Israelis and condemns the bigoted rallies which occurred on its campus. As such, Brandeis must withhold funding for the Initiative and its upcoming trip. Until Al-Quds takes action to combat the anti-Semitism that permeates its campus, Brandeis should not be associated with Al-Quds University.
In the case of the Al-Quds campus, the movement towards inclusivity and acceptance of individual differences — predominantly in regard to religion or ethnicity — must come from within the school and within Palestinian society. An effective dialogue can and will occur when Al-Quds renounces glorification of terror and expresses a sincere desire to embrace all peoples — both in theory and practice.
Brandeis University is, however, in a unique position to advance dialogue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While the Al-Quds partnership should not be fully reinstated, the University should seek to advance new dialogue initiatives that include Israeli, Palestinian and American students.