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Brandeis suspends partnership with Palestinian university over demonstration reportedly featuring Nazi salute, glorifying suicide bombers

Posted by Matt Rocheleau  November 19, 2013 10:45 AM

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Brandeis University has suspended its decade-old partnership with a Palestinian university after its president refused to condemn a campus demonstration in which marchers reportedly flashed Nazi salutes and displayed banners showing images of suicide bombers as “martyrs.”

Brandeis, a nonsectarian, Jewish-sponsored school, said its president Frederick M. Lawrence had asked the head of Al-Quds University, an Arab school, to issue an “unequivocal condemnation” of the Nov. 5 demonstration.

But, a statement released Sunday night by Al-Quds president Sari Nusseibeh came short of condemning the demonstrations. Instead, he described a university campus as “a sacred space for free and open discussion, the exchange of ideas, and the expression of contradictory views.”

And parts of his statement seemed to be directed at Brandeis and its president.

“These occurrences allow some people to capitalize on events in ways that misrepresent the university as promoting inhumane, anti-Semitic, fascist, and Nazi ideologies,” wrote Nusseibeh.

Brandeis responded in a statement posted on its website Monday calling Nusseibeh's statement "unacceptable and inflammatory.”

“While Brandeis has an unwavering commitment to open dialogue on difficult issues, we are also obliged to recognize intolerance when we see it, and we cannot – and will not – turn a blind eye to intolerance,” the statement added.

Brandeis said the suspension of the partnership is “effective immediately.”

The partnership, which began formally in 2003 and has roots dating back to 1997, has featured a number of faculty, administrative and student exchanges, "designed to foster cultural understanding" and to provide educational opportunities.

“We will reevaluate our relationship with Al-Quds based on future events,” Brandeis said.

The incident earlier this month on the Palestinian school's campus involved “demonstrators wearing black military gear, armed with fake automatic weapons, and who marched while waving flags and raising the traditional Nazi salute," according to Brandeis. "The demonstration took place in the main square of the Al-Quds campus, which was surrounded by banners depicting images of 'martyred' suicide bombers."

In Nusseibeh’s statement, he described “students making a mock military display” at Al-Quds as “rare but nonetheless damaging events.” Otherwise, the statement does not condemn the demonstration, and aggressively fights back against the idea that he should condemn such an event.

“The university is often subjected to vilification campaigns by Jewish extremists with the purpose of discrediting its reputation as a prestigious academic institution with a unique, humane calling: to strive to instill noble values in its students; to spread the spirit of democracy and openness toward other world cultures; and to present the genuine face of the Palestinian people, calling for peace against the extremism and violence to which we ourselves are subjected as a people denied our rights under occupation,” Nusseibeh wrote.

“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,” he wrote. “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 settlements and the confiscation of land, and prevents Palestinians from achieving our freedom.

Brandeis said in its statement Tuesday: “The partnership with Al Quds University was initiated with the best of intentions for opening a dialogue and building a foundation for peace. Over the years, our partnership has been extremely productive in many respects, including student and faculty exchanges that have advanced the cause of peace and understanding.”

“Brandeis welcomes students of all faiths and nationalities and is home to students from more than 130 countries, including every country in the Middle East,” the statement added. “We are proud of our deep roots in Middle Eastern studies as well as our internationally recognized programs in peace, conflict and coexistence studies … “We will continue to advance the cause of peace and understanding on our campus and around the world.”

Matt Rocheleau can be reached at mjrochele@gmail.com. Looking for more coverage of area colleges and universities? Go to our Your Campus pages.

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