Brandeis University suspended a 25-year-old cooperative relationship with the West Bank-based Al-Quds University this week, after the Palestinian university president’s “unacceptable and inflammatory” response to a student demonstration which invoked Nazi imagery.
Brandeis President Frederick Lawrence demanded that his counterpart at Al-Quds, Sari Nusseibeh, “issue an unequivocal condemnation” of the demonstration in both Arabic and English. The Nov. 5 demonstration was held by a student group tied to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist group. Images posted by journalist Tom Gross show students dressed all in black making the Nazi salute. Some carried flags bearing the Islamic Jihad logo and posters of the terrorist group’s martyrs.
Nusseibeh did publish a letter in response. But it blamed “Jewish extremists” for taking advantage of the situation in order to cast “the university as promoting inhumane, anti-Semitic, fascist, and Nazi ideologies” and Palestinians “as a people who must be kept under coercive control and occupation.”
That prompted Brandeis to suspend its relationship with Al-Quds, which dated back to 1998.
“While Brandeis has an unwavering commitment to open dialogue on difficult issues,” a university statement released Monday said, “we are also obliged to recognize intolerance when we see it, and we cannot – and will not – turn a blind eye to intolerance.”
The decision may be revisited later, the statement said.
But at least one senior Brandeis administrator sees the controversy as over-blown. The Washington Free Beacon reported on the demonstration last week. Now, the Beacon reports, a senior vice president accused the online news outlet of trying to gin up “shock value” in its reporting. In addition, Andrew Flagel minimized the demonstration, saying that it wasn’t sanctioned by Al-Quds.
Blaming the messenger is always the easy diversion. Flagel’s criticism might be better directed at his Al-Quds counterparts. Lawrence’s request for “unequivocal condemnation” of the terror-supporting campus rally wasn’t asking for much from a partner who claims to be committed to “a message of noble human values: freedom, democracy, and pluralism.”
Nusseibeh could have played the academic freedom card and still condemned the demonstration’s message. If universities are about the free exchange of ideas, even objectionable ones, a truly moderate institution would have pushed back, explaining why the terrorist message has only brought death and suffering to the debate. But that’s not what happened.
That Al-Quds opted for obfuscation and somehow made a point to find “extremist Jews” at fault is a lesson in its own right for Brandeis.