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Suspension of Al-Quds partnership still a source of controversy

Published: August 22, 2014
Section: Front Page, News


On Nov. 15, 2013, a rally took place at Al-Quds University in the West Bank. Demonstrators marched in dark military gear and held large, fake weapons. In a report issued to the Brandeis community on Dec. 9, the incident was described as including “glorifying portrayals of hatred and violence that are antithetical to the institutional values of both Brandeis University and Al-Quds University.”

After the demonstration at the campus, the partnership between Brandeis University and Al-Quds University was suspended until further notice. However, the demonstration was not the main factor in the suspension.

President of Al-Quds University Sari Nusseibeh issued a statement to his students about the demonstration in both Arabic and English, by Brandeis’ request. The statement condemned the events of the protest. This was on Nov. 17; on Nov. 18, President Frederick Lawrence suspended the partnership with the school. Three days later, on Nov. 21, Lawrence also suspended Nusseibeh from the advisory board of the International Center of Ethics, Justice and Public Life.

Lawrence’s reasons for suspending the relationship were based on the idea that Nusseibeh’s letter to his students was “unacceptable and inflammatory.” Many have contested this. After the rally occurred, Lawrence requested that Brandeis faculty travel to Al-Quds and report back findings. This report on the rally by three Brandeis faculty members suggested that Brandeis immediately resume its partnership with Al-Quds University.

“While we understand the reasons why many people were disturbed or offended by Sari Nusseibeh’s Nov. 17 letter to his student community, the letter expressed neither intolerance nor hatred,” the report read.

At the time, Brandeis University claimed that the suspension was not permanent. “Brandeis is open to reevaluating the relationship as new information is available,” stated Ellen de Graffenreid, former senior vice president for communications, at the time. However, no action has been taken in the nine months since the incident.

As time wore on, students at Brandeis University have spoken out over social media and the web. In The Jewish Daily Forward, Brandeis students Catie Stewart ’15 and Eli Phillip ’15 wrote an article titled “Brandeis Gave Up On Al-Quds. Its Students Didn’t.”

“Progress is only achieved when we work with partners such as the administration and students at Al-Quds University who seek similar goals. Yet in order to have dialogue and a relationship on the same plane, we must first recognize and then strive to understand the experience of Palestinians. Otherwise, as we saw when President Lawrence suspended the partnership, we are merely talking over them, not with them,” the article read.

Students are not the only people who disagree. At the end of May, alumnus Michael Ratner ’66 wrote a letter to President Lawrence 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,” Ratner wrote, “I do not feel my service on that board is compatible with your suspension of Dr. Sari Nusseibeh … from that board.”

Ratner was not an average board member, though. He was also a donor to the university. He continued to write in his letter that he will not be making any further donations to Brandeis. Regarding the suspension of the universities’ partnership and of Nusseibeh from the board, Ratner said, “I profoundly disagree with both of these actions.”

Ratner also disputed Lawrence’s reasoning for suspending the university’s relationship with Nusseibeh.

“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] rally … I note that you suspended President Nusseibeh before you even received the report,” he said in his letter to Lawrence.

Ratner cites the fact that the report did not find Nusseibeh’s letter to be intolerant or hateful.

“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,” Ratner wrote. “Apparently, even those Palestinians with the most modern views are unacceptable partners and colleagues. That is unacceptable to me.”

Stewart and Phillip also petitioned the university to reevaluate the suspension. “So we ask the Brandeis administration: confront the consequences of the decision you made … Do not propagate an attitude that encourages ignoring difficult issues and turning away when the path to mutual understanding is rocky. This mindset is unhealthy for our community and must be remedied,” they stated.

As the new semester begins, eyes are on Lawrence to see if he will make a move to reinstate the partnership. After Ratner’s decision to stop donating to Brandeis, the suspension has come at a high cost.

Brandeis had partnered with Al-Quds since 2003. In an earlier interview with The Hoot, de Graffenreid said the partnership “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 … Feedback from those involved in the exchanges has been positive.”

In March, Nusseibeh resigned as president of Al-Quds University, after a pro-Hamas rally occurred on campus. A statement issued by the school stated that Nusseibeh resigned because he had reached the age of retirement.