Post Classifieds

Report on Al-Quds shared with public

By Phil Gallagher
On December 10, 2013

An in-depth account examining the demonstrations that took place at Al-Quds University on Nov. 5 and the nature of Al-Quds' subsequent response, titled "A Report to the Brandeis Community on the Events of 2013 Involving Brandeis University and Al-Quds University," was made public yesterday afternoon. The report, written by Daniel Terris, the director of the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life, Profs. Susan Lanser (ENG) and Daniel Kryder (POL) concludes that Al-Quds University acted swiftly to condemn the demonstrations and recommends that Brandeis "resume and indeed redouble its commitment" to the partnership with Al-Quds. Additionally, a resolution from the advisory board of the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life encouraged both Brandeis and Al-Quds to take steps to lift the suspension of Al-Quds University President Sari Nusseibeh from the advisory board of the Center.

University President Frederick Lawrence and University Provost Steve Goldstein '78 requested the report and asked the three professors to learn about the demonstration during a previously-scheduled research visit to Al-Quds, according to the report's introduction. The demonstration in question, according to the report, "featured young men dressed in black military-style outfits, wearing black masks, and sporting fake automatic weapons."

In response to a Nov. 17 letter regarding the demonstration from Al-Quds University President Sari Nusseibeh, Lawrence suspended Brandeis' partnership with Al-Quds.

On the whole, the authors expressed their confidence with the immediate response of Al-Quds to the demonstrations. "Within 24 hours, the University administration had taken steps to address the unacceptable elements of the rally directly with student leaders, it had issued a direct and unambiguous condemnation of the event, and it had set up a formal investigative committee," read the report.

In reference to the Nov. 17 letter from Nusseibeh to his students that Lawrence referred to as "unacceptable and inflammatory," Terris, Lanser and Kryder acknowledged that many members of the Brandeis community felt that there was an "indifference or hostility towards the Jewish people and towards the state of Israel" in the letter. However, they put forth their own belief that the letter was a meaningful effort by Nusseibeh to communicate to his students values of peace and respect. "The four lengthy paragraphs of the letter that condemn violence and hatred ... have received too little attention," they wrote.

Details of the demonstration
The report provided many new, previously-unknown details about the nature of the demonstrations at Al-Quds. First and foremost, the report explained that the demonstration was sponsored by a student organization at Al-Quds whose name "translates loosely as 'Islamic Bloc.'" The organization is described as "an affiliate of the Islamic Jihad political party" that was trying to "exaggerate its own local strength" through the demonstration to another political student group. The report explains that many political student organizations at Al-Quds are "direct affiliates of national parties, which may also provide external funding and advisement."

The demonstrators' application to Al-Quds for permission to stage the rally "proposed four activities: a ceremony honoring the three best students in each school with awards; speeches; a dramatization that as to relate in some way to student life on campus; and Islamic music," according to the report. The rally evidently did not follow this plan. Agreements between Al-Quds and student groups prohibit military-style events and the disrespect for any nation or its symbols, including the Israeli flag, according to the report.

On Nov. 5, however, a "highly charged political atmosphere" led Al-Quds security officials to conclude that "any intervention or confrontation carried serious risks" and might lead to violence between two opposing student factions-one associated with Islamic Jihad and one associated with Hamas. To avoid any violence, Al-Quds allowed the rally to proceed despite its inappropriate nature.

Regarding the link to Nazism, the student group holding the demonstration denied any connection between Nazism and its gesture, according to the report. Instead, the gesture was meant to be related to a pledge supporting Al-Quds. The report also mentions that while scholars on both campuses indicate that the salute is used by other Middle Eastern political groups, "those who perform it can be expected to know that it will be seen as ... a symbol of hatred towards the Jewish people."

Al-Quds' response
The report explained that the student affairs staff of Al-Quds University gathered all of the student groups "immediately after the rally" to emphasize that the rally had violated Al-Quds' policies. The day following the rally, Nov. 6, Nusseibeh and Executive Vice President Imad Abu Kishek established a committee to "investigate the circumstances of the event and to recommend sanctions for individual participants as well as revisions to University policy." The report indicated that the committee's work was still in process on Nov. 20, when the Brandeis delegation left Al-Quds.

In an email to the Justice, Terris wrote that he, Lanser and Kryder "have not had an update about this since before Thanksgiving. As far as we know, the committee is still continuing its work." When asked whether the committee had also considered sanctioning the "Islamic Bloc" student organization who organized the event, Terris responded that he, Lanser and Kryder "do not know exactly what sanctions the committee is considering at this time."

On Nov. 17, Nusseibeh wrote a letter to Al-Quds students that was intended to address several different events that had impacted the school. The Nov. 5 rally had served as one of them, according to the report. Lawrence, in a Nov. 18 press release on BrandeisNOW, called this letter, which was translated to English from the Arabic, "unacceptable and inflammatory." Lawrence suspended the partnership between Brandeis and Al-Quds shortly following receipt of the letter on Nov. 18.

The authors acknowledge that Nusseibeh's use of the term "Jewish extremists" in the letter is "jarring" but emphasize that there is a distinction between "Jews" and "Jewish extremists," similarly to the way that people have learned the distinction between Muslims and Islamic extremists. "Presumably the same distinction [between Muslim people in general and Islamic extremists] applies when speaking about other groups," they wrote.

Community responses
Lawrence was traveling in India at the time of the report's release and could not be reached for comment. Senior Vice President for Communications Ellen de Graffenreid wrote in an email to the Justice that Lawrence "will review [the report] carefully and he continues to keep the lines of communication open with Al Quds University."

"These are sensitive issues and I know that President Lawrence is committed to gathering all of the data that is available and considering a broad range of input from the community," de Graffenreid continued.

Terris wrote in an email to the Justice that he had not yet received feedback from the University administration. "The report was just released this afternoon. We haven't received any feedback from those groups that I know about," he wrote.

Prof. Mari Fitzduff (Heller), the founding director of the master's program in Coexistence and Conflict, expressed her appreciation in an email to the Justice that the report "paid great attention to the context, the language and the cultural and community nuances that were a necessary part of understanding the Al-Quds incident." She further expressed her support for the partnership. "I do hope the partnership will be actively continued, along with the reinstatement of President Nusseibeh to the Board of the Ethics center," she wrote.

Prof. Jonathan Sarna (NEJS) expressed concern with the partnership in an email to the Justice. "Reading the report of the committee, I could not help but wonder how our university would respond if a Ku Klux Klan rally complete with robes, hoods, and the burning of crosses took place at one of our partner institutions," wrote Sarna. "I fear that what we are witnessing here is what George W. Bush once termed 'the soft bigotry of low expectations.'"

"I find it deeply regrettable, especially when displayed by colleagues whom I otherwise so deeply respect," Sarna continued.

Eve Herman '15, the president of the Brandeis Zionist Alliance, conveyed her distress with the events at Al-Quds in an email to the Justice. "Organizations that support or host anti-Israel or anti-Jewish events (such as the Nazi-style rally) should have no place on our Brandeis campus. All the more so, any similar behavior is not to be tolerated by partnership institutions, and Al-Quds' students' actions were simply unacceptable," she wrote.

Representatives from the student organization Brandeis Students for Justice in Palestine did not respond to an email requesting comment.

Eli Philip '15, the co-president of J Street U Brandeis, expressed agreement with the report in an email to the Justice. "J Street U Brandeis joins professors Terris, Lanser and Kryder in their call to resume a vibrant partnership with Al-Quds University. Engaging with narratives different than our own is often difficult, but ultimately a partnership will help both universities empower productive voices who are interested in peace and understanding," he wrote.

-Tate Herbert contributed reporting

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