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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Univ severs ties with Al-Quds over protest

Published: November 22, 2013
Section: Front Page, News

After numerous members of the university community expressed outrage and disgust, Brandeis announced it would suspend its partnership with Al-Quds University in Palestine on Nov. 18. Brandeis had been coupled with this sister university since 2003, a project originally undertaken to enhance cultural understanding. But after Nazi-style demonstrations on Al-Quds’ campus on Nov. 5 and an apology letter the university deemed unacceptable, Brandeis cut ties with the university.

“This week has been a challenging one for the Brandeis community … in many ways, I feel our response was correct,” University President Fred Lawrence stated on his personal blog, “Brandeis First.”

The story began unfolding on Nov. 8, when a news blog, The Free Beacon, published an article titled: “Brandeis University: School for Scandal.” The article detailed the Palestinian school’s rally, which included a Nazi-inspired salute and students boasting black military gear and fake weapons. The Free Beacon article published quotes from Brandeis students, but repeatedly stated that Brandeis refused to comment at press time.

“We found out about the protest late in the day on Friday, Nov. 8. At that time, we could not give a comment to The Free Beacon because we could not verify the reports and it was after sundown, therefore too late to contact people in Israel on the Sabbath. We explained this to The Free Beacon—that we couldn’t comment on events that we couldn’t verify outside of a post on a single blog,” stated Ellen de Graffenreid, senior vice president for communications.

Al-Quds University reported that an outside group, not affiliated with the university, arranged the protest. After taking stock of the situation, Brandeis requested that Al-Qud’s President Nusseibeh issue a letter of condemnation in both Arabic and English about the protests. The letter was posted on the Al-Quds website and an email was sent to President Lawrence on Nov. 17.

The next day, Brandeis found the letter unacceptable and suspended the partnership. “Brandeis is open to reevaluating the relationship as new information is available. That is why the relationship is suspended at this time [and not ended],” said Graffenreid.

While Graffenreid states that Brandeis received “some phone calls, comments and emails from faculty, students, parents and alumni” about the protest, not all are in support of Brandeis’ decision.

“I was definitely not happy that such demonstrations had happened at Al-Quds and must be condemned. But I was also aware that universities across the world are spaces where demonstrations and debate from each side of the political idea happens, so I was not overall surprised,” said Aziz Sohail, an alumnus who graduated in 2013. “I think [Brandeis’ connection to Al-Quds] is an amazing relationship and something that should be continued.”

The letter of apology, sent out by Nusseibeh, was rejected according to BrandeisNOW due to its “unacceptable” and “inflammatory” content. “First and foremost, universities should be safe spaces for a broad range of dialogue, discussion and debate. But there are limits, and hate speech has no place on our campus. As private university campus we are not, strictly speaking, bound by the First Amendment. We can, and indeed we must, develop our own rules of freedom and expression,” Lawrence stated on his blog.

When asked about which qualities of the statement were unacceptable, Graffenreid commented, “Please read the letter carefully.” The letter is linked to on the BrandeisNOW website.

“I think while the letter did not meet Brandeis’ expectations for outright condemnation, I think the letter discussed different valid points, but also remained to the spirit of progressiveness and debate. So I think Brandeis could have fostered that with the partnership and maintained a proactive rather than reactive relationship,” Sohail said.

Graffenreid explained Brandeis’ past relationship with Al-Quds. “It was begun to link an Arab institution in Jerusalem and a Jewish-sponsored institution in the U.S. in an exchange designed to provide education opportunities for students, faculty and staff and foster cultural understanding. With funding from the Ford Foundation, the project included administrative exchanges, academic exchanges and student exchanges. Feedback from those involved in the exchanges has been positive,” she said. When asked to comment about how the suspended partnership may negatively affect Al-Quds, Graffenreid stated, “I don’t have any insight on your second question.”

Sohail said that the relationship Brandeis had with Al-Quds was one of the things that made him proud to be affiliated with the university as an alumnus. “Now they have lost something unique, and an ability to continue the dialogue and ensure things like this do not happen.”