WASHINGTON - Brandeis University's refusal to address concerns about possible ties between a prominent Palestinian Arab scholar, Khalil Shikaki, and the terrorist organization Palestinian Islamic Jihad is prompting outrage in the Jewish community and among some Brandeis alumni.
Calls are mounting for an investigation into Mr. Shikaki's documented associations with known terrorists. Mr. Shikaki was named last year as a scholar at the Crown Center for Middle East Studies at Brandeis University. One of Palestinian Islamic Jihad's more notorious acts was an April 1995 bombing in Israel that killed a Brandeis student, Alisa Flatow.
As The New York Sun reported last month, government wiretaps of conversations between Mr. Shikaki and the current leader of PIJ, Ramadan Abdul lah Shallah, and between other alleged terrorists, show that Mr. Shikaki distributed money in the West Bank for associates of a Florida professor accused of operating the American wing of PIJ, Sami Al-Arian, who raised the funds in America.
According to the wiretaps, introduced as evidence in the Al-Arian trial, Mr. Shikaki then refused to continue the money transfers in January 1995, shortly after PIJ was declared a blocked terrorist organization by President Clinton.
Mr. Shikaki is the brother of the assassinated founder of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Fathi Shikaki, and a former director of the Florida-based World & Islam Studies Enterprise, founded by Mr. Al-Arian.
News of Mr. Shikaki's possible ties to Palestinian Islamic Jihad leaders prompted an immediate response from members of the Jewish community. The Zionist Organization of America has called for a boycott of the school. A Brandeis alumna who is also a ZOA-affiliated lawyer, Susan Tuchman, is calling for an investigation into the terms of Mr. Shikaki's hiring and his past, urging the university to "sever its ties with Khalil Shikaki unless and until it is determined with absolute certainty that he has never been connected with Palestinian Islamic Jihad or those who support terrorism or the destruction of Israel."
Mr. Shikaki has not been indicted on any criminal charges in America. He has repeatedly denied any connection to his brother's terrorist organization; any knowledge of the connections between WISE and the Islamic Committee for Palestine - both alleged by the government to be front groups for Islamic Jihad - and PIJ, and any knowledge that top figures in the organization with whom he had associated were at all involved in PIJ.
According to documentation by the Washington-based Investigative Project on Terrorism, however, Mr. Shikaki participated in multiple ICP and WISE conferences, alongside militant Muslim leaders who urged conference attendees to embark on a violent jihad against Israel and urging "all our Muslim brothers" to "die as the martyrs died in Afghanistan." Mr. Shikaki also appeared alongside Mr. Shallah and spoke at an ICP meeting with the blind Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, who was convicted of leading a terrorist cell in America that plotted to blow up the United Nations and other New York City landmarks.
Confronted with concerns about Mr. Shikaki's past, Brandeis has steadfastly defended the scholar in the press, to alumni, and to concerned organizations. In a letter to Ms. Tuchman, Brandeis's president, Jehuda Reinharz, dismissed the government evidence and the allegations as "unsubstantiated innuendo," pledging: "There is no plan to take any action with respect to Professor Shikaki."
In its most recent statement on the flap, Brandeis describes the academic as "among the most serious, responsible, credible, committed, and courageous observers of Middle East politics," citing as evidence of Mr. Shikaki's credibility defenses of him mounted by prominent Jewish organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League and the America-Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Yet Brandeis has refused to respond to specific concerns about Mr. Shikaki, particularly the government wiretaps. It has also resisted all calls for an investigation to verify that the scholar is not "a member or sympathizer of Islamic Jihad or any other terrorist organizations." Requests yesterday for an interview with Mr. Reinharz were denied by university officials citing his out-of-town travel. Requests for comment from the director of the Crown Center, Shai Feldman, went unreturned, as have all requests for comment to the Sun made of Mr. Shikaki.
A university spokesman, Dennis Nealon, said the specific concerns about Mr. Shikaki were "not something the university is going to get into." Mr. Nealon said the school would also not disclose whether Mr. Shikaki's associations with known and alleged terrorists had been known or probed before his appointment to the Crown Center. "There are a lot of things that can't be answered," Mr. Nealon said. "Those are personnel matters, and the university doesn't broadcast personnel procedures, or what comes of them."
Mr. Shikaki's not having been indicted by the government speaks for itself, the spokesman added.
Mr. Reinharz's and the university's responses left Ms. Tuchman "surprised and offended," she said, "because it didn't really respond to any of my concerns. I felt it was very dismissive.
"I just can't believe that's the standard for whether you hire someone or not," the alumna said. "I've never heard such a thing."
Brandeis University ought to require more of its scholars than that they simply not have been convicted of crimes, the president of the ZOA, Morton Klein, said yesterday.
"Would you hire O.J. Simpson to be your school football coach?" he said.
Mr. Klein is demanding of Brandeis and Mr. Shikaki that the scholar condemn his past associations with PIJ, WISE, and ICP; apologize for his past "and for deceiving or misleading Brandeis University and others and show genuine contrition for these associations and past actions"; ask forgiveness for past associations; "publicly condemn by name Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and other terrorist organizations"; and "publicly express support for Israel's right to exist as a Jewish State."
The executive director of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, Andrea Levin, too, expressed disappointment with Brandeis's response.
"Certainly if there are questions, they should be investigated," she said, adding that it was inappropriate for the university to rely on other Jewish institutions' defenses of Mr. Shikaki. "I think they should make their own judgment," Ms. Levin said. "That's the essence of scholarship, to go back and examine the data independently."
Brandeis's approach, she said, was "inconsistent with the university ethos," adding it was "so important" for Brandeis's Middle East scholarship not to become tainted with anti-Israel bias, as is the case at many universities.