Forward Thinking

Brandeis Shouldn’t Cut Ties to Palestinian University

By Michael Ratner

  • Print
  • Share Share

Sari Nusseibeh in his office at Al-Quds university / Haaretz

Open Letter to Brandeis President

Dear President Lawrence:

By this letter I am 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, I do not feel my service on that board is compatible with your suspension of Dr. Sari Nusseibeh, the President of Al-Quds University, from that board. In addition, in light of your suspension of Dr. Nusseibeh and of Brandeis’ relationship with Al-Quds, I will not be making further donations to Brandeis. My reasons, which I am making public, are set forth below.

On November 18, 2013, at your direction, Brandeis suspended its longtime partnership (since 2003) with Al-Quds, a Palestinian university located in Jerusalem, Palestine. At the same time, you suspended the President of Al-Quds, Sari Nusseibeh, from the advisory board of the Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life at Brandeis, a board on which I also serve. I profoundly disagree with both of these actions. I believe that you have seriously harmed important exchanges that offered at least some hope for better understanding among the Brandeis and Al-Quds communities. As a result of your precipitous action, you have also besmirched the reputation of President Nusseibeh, a well-known scholar who has spent his life working for a peaceful solution between Palestine and Israel.

While I feel that your decision requires me to take these actions, I do so with some reluctance, because of my long association with Brandeis. As you are aware, I was an alumnus of Brandeis from the 1960’s and attended during the time of the civil rights movement and the beginning of the Vietnam War protests. The school began to open my eyes to liberal and progressive politics. It was a place of intense discussion and debate with professors like Herbert Marcuse and speakers such as Malcolm X, Allen Ginsberg and Paul Goodman. As I said when Brandeis gave me the 2006 Alumni Achievement Award, “Those years really changed my life. It’s clear that Brandeis is where I became an activist.” In 2006, I was also appointed to the advisory board of the Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life which is involved with the Al-Quds relationship.

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 November 5, 2013 rally which ultimately precipitated the chain of events that led to the suspension of the relationship with Al-Quds and of President Nusseibeh from the board. I note that you suspended President Nusseibeh before you even received the report.

In response to the demonstrators’ conduct at the rally, President Nusseibeh issued a statement exhorting students and others to act in a way that promotes mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and the exchange of ideas. You, nevertheless, claim that President Nusseibeh’s statement was “unacceptable and inflammatory.” The findings of the report mentioned above are at odds with this claim and your justification for taking the actions you did. While the report found that the November 5 rally, which was not endorsed by Al-Quds, violated the guidelines for such rallies, it also determined “that university officials responded promptly and appropriately by communicating to both internal and external constituencies that the rally violated university policies and principles.”

The report also pointed out that President Nusseibeh’s letter of November 17 regarding the November 5 rally expressed no “intolerance or hatred.” Rather, it “was a genuine effort of a University president to reach his students in prose chosen to engage them in productive conversations about the values of peace and mutual respect.” The report disagreed with your suspension of President Nusseibeh from the board, stating that “this action does a serious disservice to a man with a long time record as a courageous man of letters and a man of peace.”

The report concluded with a call to Brandeis to resume and redouble its relationship with Al-Quds.

(As a parenthetical, the board disagreed with your suspension of President Nusseibeh which was implemented without notification to Richard J. Goldstone, the Chair of the Board.)

Subsequently, in early January, the three faculty returned to Al-Quds and met with more than twenty administrators and faculty from Al-Quds. The discussions were disturbing to say the least. The professors and administrators at Al-Quds were “very much surprised and hurt” by the suspension of the partnership and “particularly distressed that Brandeis would lend its name to what they saw as an effort to delegitimize Al-Quds University through accusations that it promotes or condones fascism and hatred,” especially as it worked with Israeli institutions.

Your treatment of Dr. Sari Nusseibeh upset everyone to whom they spoke. It was their view “that the most harmful result of Brandeis University’s actions was the damage to the reputation and dignity of their president wrought by the cumulative effect of the suspension of the partnership, of the language about Dr. Nusseibeh’s statement used on the website and repeated by the international press, and of the suspension of Dr. Nusseibeh from the advisory board of the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life.”

Yes, in some communities, especially those that have embraced stereotyped views of Palestinians, Dr. Nusseibeh’s reputation may have been harmed. But for those who understand a more nuanced picture of these events and are aware of what is occurring in Palestine and Israel, it is the reputation of Brandeis and yourself that have been damaged by these actions.

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. Apparently, even those Palestinians with the most moderate views are unacceptable partners and colleagues. That is unacceptable to me.

Sincerely yours,

Michael Ratner


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Palestine, Sari Nusseibeh, Michael Ratner, Israel, Brandeis, Al-Quds

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Law professor Dan Markel waited a shocking 19 minutes for an ambulance as he lay dying after being ambushed in his driveway. Read the stunning 911 transcript as neighbor pleaded for help.
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.