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Brandeis leaders talk with officials at Al-Quds University about resuming partnership

Posted by Matt Rocheleau  January 16, 2014 04:15 PM

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Brandeis University said today its leaders are continuing talks with top officials from Al-Quds University in Palestine about trying to re-establish a partnership between the two schools.

The nonsectarian, Jewish-sponsored university in Waltham suspended its decade-old partnership with Al-Quds in November after the president of the Arab university refused to condemn a campus demonstration in which marchers reportedly flashed Nazi salutes and included banners of dead suicide bombers.

In December, some faculty and an advisory board at Brandeis issued public calls for leaders of their school to lift the suspension and resume its partnership with Al-Quds.

“Talks between the universities have been going on since the relationship was suspended,” Brandeis spokeswoman Ellen de Graffenreid said in an email Thursday. “The focus of the discussions is on: what ongoing relationship might be appropriate between the two institutions.”

She said that the ultimate goal of the talks is for the two institutions to become partners again. But officials from either side have not set a timetable on the discussions.

“These are sensitive issues, and putting a timetable on these discussions is not appropriate,” she said. “Both institutions need to have discussions with their stakeholders.”

Brandeis President Frederick M. Lawrence said previously he had asked Al-Quds President Sari Nusseibeh to issue an “unequivocal condemnation” of the demonstration.

But, a statement Nusseibeh released soon after 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 by immediately suspending its partnership with Al-Quds. In a statement Brandeis called 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 administrators stressed that the university was suspending, not terminating, the partnership with Al-Quds. Brandeis leaders have since said they had reached out to Al-Quds leaders to discuss the issues further and were open to reconsidering the suspension.

In December, three Brandeis faculty members said in a report published that they researched and analyzed the circumstances leading up the suspension and believe that Al-Quds administrators “responded promptly and appropriately” after the rally.

“Al-Quds University is playing a courageous frontline role in working for peace by engaging those minority factions in its midst that hold extreme attitudes,” the report said. “We call on Brandeis University to resume and indeed redouble its commitment to this scholarly partnership.”

The report was authored by: Daniel Terris, director of the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life at Brandeis; Susan S. Lanser, professor of comparative literature, English and women’s and gender studies and head of the humanities division; and Daniel Kryder, associated professor and chair of the politics department.

Meanwhile, around the same time the report was published, the International Advisory Board of the center Terris directs issued a resolution that said it “urges that all steps be taken by both universities to reinstate their important partnership at the earliest opportunity.”

The resolution also urged the university to lift a suspension placed on Al-Quds President Sari Nusseibeh, who is one the board’s 17 members.

The Brandeis spokeswoman said Thursday that Lawrence has been speaking with Al-Quds officials and has met on “multiple occasions” with Terris, Lanser and Kryder.

She said the report’s three co-authors have also visited Al-Quds twice recently and planned to update their fellow Brandeis professors about their most recent trip at a faculty meeting scheduled for Thursday afternoon.

Lawrence was also scheduled to provide an update to faculty at Thursday’s meeting, de Graffenreid said.

The partnership between Brandeis and Al-Quds began formally in 2003 and has roots dating back to 1997. It has featured a number of faculty, administrative and student exchanges, "designed to foster cultural understanding" and to provide educational opportunities, according to Brandeis.

Soon after Brandeis announced its suspension, Syracuse University suspended its ties with Al-Quds, while Bard College announced it would maintain its partnership with Al-Quds.

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

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