A Brandeis professor has come under fire this week for alleged ties to Palestinian Islamic Jihad, bringing the university under intense scrutiny from the Jewish community.
Khalil Shikaki, a prominent Palestinian pollster and academic appointed this year as a senior fellow to Brandeis's Crown Center for Middle East Studies, is facing renewed allegations that he distributed funds for PIJ.
A Jan. 17 New York Sun article reported wiretapped conversations used in a recent federal case against Florida-based Palestinian academic Sami Al-Arian, which allegedly recorded Shikaki agreeing to distribute funds for the terrorist organization. Shikaki was never indicted, and this week he denied being knowingly involved with members of PIJ.
Yesterday, terrorism expert Steven Emerson, director of the Investigative Project, released exclusively to the Jewish Advocate a compilation of allegations against Shikaki gleaned from the Al-Arian case, claiming that Shikaki knowingly had extensive ties to active members of PIJ. Government documents show that Shikaki worked closely with organizations such as the World and Islamic Studies Enterprise, of which he was a former director, and the Islamic Committee for Palestine. The government has alleged that both organizations were fronts for PIJ.
In the wiretapped conversations, recorded in 1995, Shikaki agreed to distribute money for orphans in Nablus. In its case against Al-Arian, the government alleged that "orphans" was a code word for PIJ. Shikaki ultimately decided to stop distributing funds, coinciding with U.S. President Bill Clinton's executive order in 1995 making transactions with PIJ illegal.
Al-Arian was acquitted in December 2005 for eight of the 17 counts against him. The government is still holding him in custody for the remaining counts, over which the jury is deadlocked.
In response to the renewed allegations, the Zionist Organization of America came out with a statement on Jan. 17 urging donors to "reconsider their support for Brandeis unless the university responds appropriately."
Stephen Flatow, whose daughter Alisa, a Brandeis graduate who was killed by PIJ in 1995, said he was aware of Shikaki's appointment but had not realized the extent of his possible involvement with PIJ until the wiretapped conversations were revealed. "My response has been one of confusion," said Flatow. He does not support boycotting Brandeis, but would like to see Shikaki respond to the allegations.
Supporters of Shikaki point to the lack of indictment as proof of his innocence. Brandeis President Jehuda Reinharz said in a statement: "At Brandeis, we believe that we still live in a country where people are presumed innocent until proven guilty. The university has complete faith in the United States' law enforcement agencies, and no charges have ever been brought against Professor Shikaki. Should something arise in the future, the University will take that into account and act accordingly."
Shai Feldman, director of the Crown Center and co-teacher of a Middle East studies class with Shikaki, said that FBI officials interviewed Shikaki in 2003 and decided against indictment. "If they believed there was anything to it, they would have accused and indicted Dr. Shikaki," said Feldman.
But critics of Shikaki insisted that indictment should not be the litmus test for accepting an academic into a Jewish-sponsored university. "Indictment isn't your standard. We are talking about issues of moral culpability," said Emerson.
"I don't know what level of evidence you need for an indictment, but our standards at ZOA and Jewish organizations should be a lot higher than never having been indicted," added Klein. "If there is a significant hint, the Jewish community should stay away from him."
Widely viewed as a moderate Palestinian voice, Shikaki addressed the 2004 AIPAC conference. He has also addressed several Jewish organizations and synagogues in the Greater Boston area since his appointment at Brandeis.
David Matz of Brit Tzedek V'Shalom, which sponsored a local lecture by Shikaki this fall, said there seems to be no substance to the allegations. He said: "People trying to bring him down sound awfully desperate about the possibility that there might be a negotiated two-state solution, and they're doing anything they can to claw at anybody who is supporting that," said Matz.