Last week, The New York Sun printed an article implying that Crown Center Fellow Khalil Skikaki had connections to terrorists in the mid '90s. However, it has never been proved that Shikaki was, or is, involved in terrorist activity.
"Innocent until proven guilty" is the backbone of our legal system. In post-9/11 America, however, this concept has been shied away from in many different ways, perhaps understandably so. But it is exactly such times of instability and insecurity when sober principles of justice are most needed.
Last semester, I took the first course offered by the Crown Center for Middle East Studies at Brandeis University, titled "Competing Narratives of the Arab-Israeli Conflict." Some 20 other students-graduate and undergraduate, Jewish, Christian and Muslim-and I learned with three prominent scholars of political science-one of them, Palestinian scholar Khalil Shikaki. Together with Shai Feldman (an Israeli scholar and director of the Crown Center), Shikaki provided us with an interactive, highly complex analysis of the dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in many of its different aspects. Not once in the entire course did any of the students (which included Arab and Israeli students) lash out at one another.
Standing in front of us in the classroom were two scholars whose respective nations are engaged in a seemingly intractable, violent conflict with one another. Their model helped set the tone for the class and to reach a higher level of learning that would not have been possible had there been just one perspective, or if one professor were trying to placate the other. After listening to and talking with Professor Shikaki over a period of several months, I can say without a doubt that he is committed to peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and thus could not be a supporter of one of the most notorious rejectionist terrorist organizations in Palestinian society-Islamic Jihad.
Ironically, there was an article on a pro-Palestinian Web site, electronicintifada.com, some months ago that attempted to draw connections between the Crown Center and the Israeli Defense Forces. It was unarguably anti-Israel and anti-Brandeis; it basically claimed that Brandeis's assets are "dirty" by connection-via the Crown family (of the Crown Center)-and the killing of Palestinians by the IDF. To me, the hype over Professor Shikaki's connections to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad is just as baseless. Indeed, these two completely opposite efforts at pinning a particular ideology to the Crown Center and its scholars attest to the "threat" that such an institution poses to those that prefer to see the world in black and white. The Crown Center seeks to promote understanding of the truly complex nature of the conflict using the vital tool of the diverse-yet reputable-scholarship in which Professor Shikaki plays a crucial part.