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Email correspondence with Dr. Reinharz regarding Brandeis University and Israel (June 2006)

Reader comment on item: [Brandeis University President Jehuda] Reinharz, Israel and Me

Submitted by Michael Spielholz (United States), Feb 16, 2007 at 21:44

Dear Dr. Reinharz,

I was a graduate student in NEJS in the late 1980s. I am writing to you at this time to express my dismay about certain actions that Brandeis University has taken recently. The Brandeis University Mission Statement states, in part: "The University that carries the name of the justice who stood for the rights of individuals must be distinguished by ... truth pursued wherever it may lead ... "

If truth had in fact been pursued then maybe Brandeis would have been precluded from bestowing an honorary degree on Tony Kushner, because pursuing the truth would have shown that Kushner is at best no friend of Israel.

Then, perhaps, it would have been realized that the university named after Justice Brandeis should not honor someone who is so antagonistic towards the state the Justice sought to bring into existence. Included among Kushner's numerous anti-Israel statements and lies about Israel are that the creation of Israel was a mistake (http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/objects/pages/PrintArticleEn.jhtml?itemNo=412341) and that Israel was founded on a program of ethnic cleansing (http://www.yaleisraeljournal.com/wintr2005/kushner.php).

Similarly, following truth "wherever it may lead" might have led Brandeis away from partnering with Sari Nusseibeh and Al-Quds University. While it is very commendable to "to bridge cultural divides that will make the world a better place" (http://www.brandeis.edu/aqu/en/about.html), how can this work when the "partner" on the other side is not sincere? The truth is that Mr. Nusseibeh is not the moderate he is made out to be. One can see this in his half-hearted pronouncements against terrorism and his support for it. As an example of the former I refer you first to the communiqué issued in June 2002 that was signed by Nusseibeh and other prominent Palestinian Arabs and called for a halt to the suicide bombings because they were counter-productive, not because they were criminal actions (http://memri.org/bin/articles.cgi?Page=archives&Area=sd&ID=SP39302).

Then there was this statement in April 2004 condemning Israel's killing of Hamas "leader Sheikh Ahmad Yassin and his freedom-fighting companions" which also contained a call for a stop to violence not because it was wrong but because it was counter-productive (http://memri.org/bin/articles.cgi?Page=archives&Area=sd&ID=SP69804). As for Nusseibeh's support for terrorism, there was his statement on Al-Jazeera in June 2002 about Umm Nidal, whose sons had perpetrated terrorist acts against Israelis: "When I hear the words of Umm Nidal, I recall the [Koranic] verse stating that 'Paradise lies under the feet of mothers.' [4] All respect is due to this mother, it is due to every Palestinian mother and every female Palestinian who is a Jihad fighter on this land. I do not wish to mix political statements and political commentary with the respect every Palestinian feels for every Jihad fighter and for anyone who truly thinks that there is no life under the occupation, except in freedom and dignity" [5] (http://memri.org/bin/articles.cgi?Page=archives&Area=ia&ID=IA10102).

Truth surely is not being pursued when Brandeis' "About the Partnership" web page states that Al-Quds is "one of Palestine's nascent civic institutions" (http://www.brandeis.edu/aqu/en/about.html). Where is this "Palestine?" "Palestine" no more exists than do Xanadu, Utopia, or the Land of Oz. Why is Brandeis helping to promote this "Palestine" fantasy, especially when for the Arabs "Palestine" means all of the land "from the River to the Sea" (http://memri.org/bin/articles.cgi?Page=archives&Area=sd&ID=SP23601). Nor is truth being pursued when Al-Quds states: "The people of Palestine may have become more mixed with each consecutive conquest, or may have changed religions, but essentially (especially in villages) the population remained constant-and is now still Palestinian ..." (http://www.alquds.edu/gen_info/index.php?page=jerusalem_history).

Lastly, why is Brandeis opposed to pursuing truth "wherever it may lead" when it comes to looking closely into Khalil Shikaki's possible ties to Palestinian Islamic Jihad? One would think that determining the truth of this allegation would be of supreme importance, particularly since that terrorist organization was responsible for the murder of Brandeis student Alisa Flatow. I was very proud when I was accepted into Brandeis. I hope it remains a world-class institution. Sincerely, Michael Spielholz ---

Here is Dr. Reinharz's reply ---

Dear Michael,

I am writing in response to your email expressing concern about certain of the University's recent decisions, specifically the award of an honorary degree to Tony Kushner, the University's partnership with Al Quds University, and the appointment of Dr. Khalil Shikaki. The decision to honor Tony Kushner at this year's commencement was made well over a year ago. As you know, the University bestows honorary degrees as a means of acknowledging the outstanding accomplishments or contributions of individual men and women in any of a number of fields of human endeavor.

Just as Brandeis does not inquire into the political opinions and beliefs of faculty or staff before appointing them, or students before offering admission, so too the University does not select honorary degree recipients on the basis of their political beliefs or opinions. The University applies no litmus test requiring honorary degree recipients to hold particular views on Israel or topics of current political debate. Mr. Kushner was not honored for his political opinions, but rather his extraordinary achievements as one of this generation's foremost playwrights, whose work is recognized in the arts and also addresses Brandeis's commitment to social justice.

I am very familiar with the attacks on Mr. Kushner that have been circulating on the Internet. I am always suspicious when efforts to condemn or criticize an organization or individual are supported by brief quotations absent the context in which they were made. And while I do not agree with many of Mr. Kushner's views on Israel, I do not believe that he is an enemy of the Jewish people or of the State of Israel. You might wish to read Mr. Kushner's letter to me in the Forward, which can be accessed at http://www.forward.com/Kushner-Letter I might also note that Mr. Kushner has been widely honored within the Jewish community, including the Harvard Hillel, the Israel Cancer Society, and the National Foundation for Jewish Culture, among others.

On June 5, Mr. Kushner was a guest of honor at the JCC 2006 Annual Benefit in New York, together with Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer and Mr. Leon Wieseltier, among others. Our partnership with Al Quds University began formally in 2004, and grew out of discussions I had with President Sari Nusseibeh over a period of years. The partnership reflects our mutual desire to use education and scholarship to advance the interests of our respective institutions, while simultaneously fostering cultural understanding and dialogue about the many challenges confronting the Middle East. The partnership with Al Quds is only one of many that Brandeis has with higher education institutions around the world. Al Quds University, for its part, maintains cooperative ventures with numerous institutions in Europe, North America and Israel, including Bar Ilan University, Tel Aviv University, Haifa University, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and the Technion, among others.

President Nusseibeh is widely considered in this country and Israel as one of the most politically moderate Palestinians on the issue of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He is the co-founder, together with Maj. Gen. (ret.) Ami Ayalon, of "The People's Voice," an Israeli-Palestinian civil initiative that aims to advance the peace process.

Ami Ayalon is the former commander of the Israeli navy and the former head of Shin Bet, Israel's domestic security agency. He has fought terror and terrorists nearly all of his adult life. The Ayalon-Nusseibeh Initiative is the only document in which Palestinians have accepted that a permanent resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will not include a return of Arab refugees to Israel. Dr. Nusseibeh has risked his life and personal safety on numerous occasions because of the consistently moderate positions he has articulated regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He is the only person of stature in the Arab world who protested vigorously against the boycott of Israeli scholars by British and other academic associations. The Al Quds-Brandeis partnership is considered a model program in its effort to use scholarship and collaboration to further peace in the Middle East. The conflict in the Middle East affects all Americans, and I believe that the partnership with Al Quds University has the potential of serving as a model for other universities in dealing with the Middle East conflict or conflicts in other parts of the world.

Finally, the allegations concerning Dr. Khalil Shikaki are, in my judgment a complete red herring. On the occasion of my most recent trip to Israel in March, I spoke personally with the immediate past head of the Mossad and members of the Israeli intelligence community, all individuals I have known for many years. Without exception, they all confirmed that the allegations that Dr. Shikaki is now or ever was a supporter of or an apologist for Palestinian Islamic Jihad or any other terrorist or suspect organization are "baseless and without merit." The rejection of this general characterization was emphatic and unequivocal in every case.

These comments served to reinforce the view expressed earlier by the director of the Crown Center for Middle East Studies, Professor Shai Feldman, that Dr. Shikaki "…is an internationally recognized and respected scholar, who has been at the forefront of numerous attempts to help reach a peaceful resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict." All of my experience tells me that I should place more reliance on the assurances of the former head of the Mossad and members of the Israeli intelligence service than the speculations, mischaracterizations and inferences of others who are simply wrong about Dr. Shikaki.

I hope this information is helpful. I am confident that Brandeis will remain the world-class institution you and I both want it to be.

Sincerely, Jehuda Reinharz

Submitting....

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