A highly-regarded human rights legal expert and activist, Michael Ratner, has resigned from the Brandeis Center on Ethics and Justice, to protest Brandeis University removing Sari Nusseibeh from that board and suspending its partnership with Al Quds University in East Jerusalem, which he heads. Ratner explains his decision in this piece online, “Ratner Report: Why I Resigned from Brandeis Univ. Ethics Board,” subtitled, “Center for Constitutional Rights president emeritus Michael Ratner says strong Zionist influences have taken a stranglehold over the university.”
I knew the current president of Brandeis University, Fred Lawrence, and his wife Kathy slightly, when he was starting out as a lawyer in New York in the 1980s. He took an impressive voluntary leadership role at the egalitarian West Side Minyan we both attended for Shabbat and holiday services.
He did act harshly toward Sari Nusseibeh and Al-Quds University, but I think it was a judgment call. Fred has also been attacked from (arguably) the other end of the spectrum, for withdrawing the nomination of the expatriate Somali anti-Muslim activist, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, for an honorary degree. Perhaps he was attempting a difficult balancing act between right & left, but it was not simply because of some Zionist conspiracy, as imagined by Michael Ratner. Ironically, Nusseibeh has long been a voice for peace and moderation between Israelis and Palestinians, even having courageously spoken at refugee camps against the “right of return” and often partnering with Israelis.
This links to the Brandeis explanation of Fred Lawrence’s decision. This is the statement’s description of what happened (how accurate it is, I can’t say):
The Nov. 5 demonstration on the Al-Quds campus involved demonstrators wearing black military gear, armed with fake automatic weapons, and who marched while waving flags and raising the traditional Nazi salute. The demonstration took place in the main square of the Al-Quds campus, which was surrounded by banners depicting images of “martyred” suicide bombers.
Nusseibeh’s statement (linked within the Brandeis announcement via a pdf) seems quite curious and very political. Lawrence is surely subject to his own political pressures (from alumni, for one thing) which may have contributed to his harsh decision; to some extent this pressure may be considered “Zionist,” but this doesn’t mean that it was without any foundation. Should Jews who care about Israel have their concerns dismissed because they are considered Zionist, as Ratner would have it? Nusseibeh’s statement did not forthrightly address the incident that Lawrence and the Brandeis community believe occurred. Instead it says, as I paraphrase broadly: We Palestinians are constantly criticized and attacked by you-know-who, so let’s be more careful about how we comport ourselves. Here are two key paragraphs:
These extreme [Jewish] elements spare no effort to exploit some rare but nonetheless damaging events or scenes which occur on the campus of Al Quds University, such as fist-fighting between students, or some students making a mock military display. These occurrences allow some people to capitalize on events in ways that misrepresent the university as promoting inhumane, anti-Semitic, fascist, and Nazi ideologies. Without these ideologies, there would not have been the massacre of the Jewish people in Europe;
without the massacre, there would not have been the enduring Palestinian catastrophe.
As occurred recently, these opportunists are quick to describe the Palestinians as a people undeserving of freedom and independence, and as a people who must be kept under coercive control and occupation. They cite these events as evidence justifying their efforts to muster broad Jewish and western opinion to support their position. This public opinion, in turn, sustains the occupation, the extension of settlement of land, and prevents Palestinians from achieving our freedom. . . .
Lawrence could have chosen to ignore or tolerate this less than fully satisfactory response, but he felt it unwise or wrong to do so. Perhaps there was a better way to indicate his dissatisfaction with or puzzlement over Nusseibeh’s statement, but I’m not ready to condemn Lawrence because of this. What I see as a real shame is that Ratner has chosen to make this about “Zionism.”
Footnote to the above: Ameinu’s “Third Narrative” newsletter features the following, which links to an article by Hussein Ibish, a writer/commentator and fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine:
At Al Quds University in East Jerusalem, Professor Mohammed Dajani faced extreme pressure for taking students to see the concentration camp at Auschwitz and ultimately had to resign his post for this brave move to expose students to the narrative of “the other.” Read the entire article here >>
I wonder what Michael Ratner might think about this?!