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Brandeis professors call on university to ‘resume, redouble’ ties with Al-Quds University
By HENRY ROME
10/12/2013
Suspension of Nusseibeh from Brandeis advisory board "violates principle of maintaining dialogue."
 
Three professors from Brandeis University recommended on Monday that it “resume and redouble” its relationship with Al-Quds University, three weeks after the Massachusetts school suspended its connection following an Islamic Jihad rally on an Al-Quds campus.

The professors’ 20-page report amounted to a sharp criticism of Brandeis president Fred Lawrence’s decision to suspend the relationship.

A spokeswoman for Brandeis said on Tuesday that Lawrence is traveling and has not had the opportunity to review the report closely.

The report provides the most comprehensive accounting to date of the period between the November 5 rally — which featured students wearing military garb, carrying fake weapons and saluting in a Nazi style — and Brandeis’s decision to end the decade-long relationship between the schools on November 18. The report was written by three professors who have worked closely on the Al-Quds partnership: Daniel Terris, Susan Lanser and Daniel Kryder.

The professors wrote that Islamic Jihad’s student branch received permission to host a rally at the school’s Abu Dis campus outside of Jerusalem, but the group deviated from a permissible protest by carrying fake weapons and trampling on the Israeli flag. However, Al-Quds was hesitant to break up the protest, they wrote. Security officials feared that, if disbanded, the members would clash with a group of Hamas-affiliated students who had gathered nearby.

Instead, the university allowed the protest to continue but responded swiftly in its aftermath by creating an investigatory committee, the report stated. That committee has yet to issue its findings.

Lawrence asked the professors on November 12 to conduct an investigation during a previously scheduled five-day trip, which was slated to begin on November 16. The day after the professors arrived at the university, the president of Al-Quds, Sari Nusseibeh, wrote a long letter to students addressing issues of hate speech and extremism.

On November 18, only hours after receiving an English translation, Lawrence announced that Brandeis would sever ties with Al-Quds. He said he was outraged by the letter and what he called Nusseibeh’s refusal to condemn the protest.

Also in response, Brandeis suspended Nusseibeh from the advisory board of the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life. That decision appeared to draw the most ire from the report’s authors.

They wrote 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.”

In response to the report, Nusseibeh wrote in an email that “I do not wish to make any public statements regarding the unfortunate incident involving Brandeis... and hope that cooperation between the two universities will soon resume.”

While the Islamic Jihad rally represented ideas “antithetical” to the values of both universities, the Brandeis report authors wrote, it should nonetheless illustrate the importance of engaging with the Al-Quds community in an effort to combat extremism.

“If one ultimate goal of both universities is to promote a culture of peace and mutual respect, then it is better, whenever possible, to engage the more extreme political elements and to use the campus as an educational oasis for exposing students to the range of interpretations and options that exclude violence and hatred,” they wrote.

“Having the courage to persist in the face of disturbing and even abhorrent speech is the more promising path to peace and the path consistent with Brandeisian values,” they added.

Faculty members at both universities said the future of the relationship remains unclear.

Jytte Klausen, a Brandeis professor who studies comparative politics and the role of Islam in the West, said on Tuesday that Lawrence and Nusseibeh “allowed things to spin out of control” before knowing the facts of the incident.

Gordon Fellman, chair of Brandeis’s Peace, Conflict and Coexistence Studies program, said the demonstration was a “minor episode” that was subject to an overreaction. He said he expects the relationship to redevelop.

“The price of not reestablishing it is greater than the price of reestablishing it. The price is Brandeis looks kind of silly,” he said.

But Jerry Cohen, a Brandeis professor of American Studies, said the report only looked at the narrow issues of the protest and aftermath, as opposed to the “entire relationship.”

Cohen said the relationship has been defined by Brandeis previously touting the relationship but avoiding a critical, public discussion about the “so-called partnership.”

On the Al-Quds side, Mohammed Dajani Daoudi, who founded the school’s American Studies program, said that if Brandeis’s concerns were only academic, and not political, there is hope for reconciliation.

Otherwise, he wrote in an email, “this attack will undermine all the work we do to promote moderate culture within the Palestinian community and will empower radical forces. This is the motivation behind the demonstration.”
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