Bard College Pres. Leon Botstein has struck an entirely different note in his relationship with Al Quds University by reaffirming his institution’s ongoing collaboration in the aftermath of a controversial student rally at the Palestinian school. The two schools have a far more ambitious academic program awarding joint degrees in numerous categories. Though I don’t know this for sure, I would imagine there are also contractual obligations between the two that might preclude one severing ties as quickly as Brandeis and Syracuse. One of the reasons it was so easy for them is that they both had relatively little financially invested in the relationship.
The Jerusalem Post, whose reporting was designed to pressure American schools to sever their ties with Al Quds, seems to have come up short with Bard. Pres. Botstein released a resolute statement of support:
“Suggestions that the university administration condoned the actions of a very small group of students within a university of 12,000 are simply inaccurate,” Botstein wrote in his statement, noting that “the incident and the ensuing controversy demonstrate that it is more important than ever to maintain our educational partnership with Al-Quds.”
There is a point worth emphasizing here. From the looks of the pictures I’ve seen, there may’ve been 30 students at this rally. As Pres. Botstein noted, there are 12,000 in the entire Al Quds student body. Does Brandeis really want to claim that there haven’t been 30 students on its campus who have done or will do something deeply offensive and hateful of a similar nature? And does Brandeis want to be judged in its entirety as an academic institution based on such activity?
The Post also quotes a Brandeis professor who had been dispatched by Pres. Lawrence to the Palestinian university to investigate the charges:
Dan Terris, a Brandeis professor closely involved with the partnership, had a scheduled trip to Al-Quds in the days following the protest, and was asked by Lawrence to investigate the circumstances of the protest.
In a blog post about his observations, Terris stopped short of explicitly criticizing Brandeis’s decision, nevertheless saying that “nothing that we have learned during this period has changed our conviction – built over many years of experience – that Sari Nusseibeh and the Al-Quds University leadership are genuinely committed to peace and mutual respect.”
So instead of trusting the faculty most invested and knowledgeable about Brandeis’ relationship with Al Quds, Lawrence chose to trust the pro-Israel fearmongers at Breitbart, Israel Matzav and his board of trustees. Thus, a supposed legal scholar specializing in free speech, betrayed those principles and the notion of due process in a rush to judgment. He has damaged Brandeis’ reputation for academic integrity. While Pres. Botstein has reaffirmed Bard’s reputation as an institution willing to stand for principle and against academic and political bullies.
I note that the Post finally was forced to concede (partially) what was obvious to anyone who bothered to investigate the charge, that students were not aping Nazi tradition in their straight-armed salute. The Post and every hasbara outlet has falsely portrayed the demonstration as “Nazi-like:”
The protesters held up their right hands in a Nazi-style salute, but observers have pointed out that such a salute does not necessarily connote Nazi allegiance…
In an open letter posted to the American Studies Facebook page, [Al Quds Prof.] Daoudi said that when he sees students demonstrating, he sees “disappointment, frustration, despair, anger, all combined together in a militaristic march protesting the dire present Palestinian political and economic conditions.”
He added that “I did not see anything Nazi about that salute.”
I wanted to return to a point I raised yesterday regarding Brandeis Pres. Lawrence’s claim that the rally by Al Quds students was “hate speech.” I noted then that no one, from Bibi Netanyahu to Frederick Lawrence, has offered any specific proof that any statement made by any of the marchers was hate speech. It appears that the fact that students displayed pictures of shaheeds who’d martyred themselves in acts of terror against Israel constituted hate speech. That arguments sounds plausible until you consider that some Israelis similarly martyred themselves in the period before 1948 while engaged in acts that were called terrorism. In fact, Yair Stern, killed by the British in a shootout, was one such terrorist who is revered by Israeli right-wing nationalists who are the country’s government today. Is attributing heroism to Stern hate speech? If so, why does Brandeis have any relationship to Israeli state institutions or agencies?
Again, I return to the point I made in my earlier post about this incident. It requires a quality sorely lacking in the response by Brandeis and Syracuse: context. If Israel has national heroes who were terrorists in their day and considered so by some even today, why should we expect different from the Palestinians? In doing so, aren’t we engaging in an act of hubris and hypocrisy?
Further, Israeli security forces regularly invade the campus to harrass students and faculty and break up the academic environment (links to such activity were offered in an earlier post). If that Islamic Jihad rally constituted hate speech, why didn’t Israel arrest those who organized it? Why didn’t they charge them with a crime? If Israel declined to do this, why is Fred Lawrence expected to act on Israel’s behalf in the capacity of a security official?
I am urging American and Israeli university professors to band together to stand for academic freedom and free speech and defend Al Quds from this vicious attack by the Israeli government and its hasbara brigade. I have written to every faculty member I know to suggest such a project. No one has taken me up on the idea. If you are interested, please let me know.