Brandeis University recently received a $450,000 grant to continue its partnership with Al-Quds University, sources within the President's Office have said. Al-Quds, which is the only Arab university in Jerusalem, has worked with Brandeis since 2003.
"Most American students know nothing about the Middle East and yet every day it's on the front page of every major newspaper in this country. They know nothing! They may know something from the blogs, they may know something from the Internet…it's not a surprise that most American diplomats go abroad and know nothing about the Middle East, can't speak Arabic, or Hebrew, or any other language for that matter," said President Jehuda Reinharz PhD '72. "So it seems to me, what Brandeis is doing, is literally trying to fill in the void, but not in an ideological way. Not in the way that it is done in most centers and institutes in this country that deal with the Middle East, but really bring scholarly issues."
Reinharz said that the partnership began during the Second Intifada in 2002. "I said the [Al-Quds President Sari Nusseibeh] ‘why don't we do something to change the atmosphere on campuses? Why don't we start a cooperative relationship?'" Reinharz then went to the Ford Foundation for funds, receiving approximately $500,000.
When asked what the benefits of this program might be, Reinharz said that only time will tell. "All I do, all we do as an institution, is plant seeds. What's the benefit for you of a Brandeis education? I have no clue. Maybe you would be just as smart had you not shown up here. I don't know," said Reinharz. "But what I can tell is what people tell me. So when students from Brandeis come back, from two weeks in Istanbul and tell me that this was a life-changing experience for them, I take them at their word."
He added that "I look at some of the alumni of the SLIFKA program, and I see what they do now back in Israel or in other parts of the Middle East. They are all involved in some fashion in trying to make connections, with the Israelis, Palestinians, [and] Egyptians… That's the benefit of education. So if you say to me, ‘why are you doing it? Why are you wasting so much money on this?' I say, ‘This is the role of the university.'"
Reaction from professors around campus were extremely positive. Professor Steven Whitfield (AMST), whose department hosted four Al-Quds students and their professor in 2005, said that "it was a wonderful experience, academically, culturally, and socially."
Professor Reuven Kimelman (NEJS) felt that "both the Ford Foundation and Brandeis University are to be congratulated for this most recent effort to promote peace building efforts between Israelis and Palestinians. Brandeis has invested considerably in strengthening the hand of those Palestinian academics who seek a peaceful resolution rather than the wanton murdering of Israelis."
He added that "the Ford Foundation is apparently continuing its efforts at making amends for their support of the Durban conference which sought to delegitimate Israel. Apparently Brandeis has convinced them that they can get more for their buck by seeking to promote reconciliation among Israelis and Palestinians rather than subsidizing the delegitimation of Israel."
Professor Gordon Fellman (SOC) said that "I think that it's great that we've renewed our relationship with Al-Quds… I think Brandeis, in a way, is playing to many different communities."
"We don't do things because we know for sure; just like science, you don't know for sure, you experiment. This is an experiment, and I am willing to bet that the benefits—not only to Brandeis, forget about Brandeis—but to the world from these sorts of programs is going to be enormous, maybe one year from now, five years, twenty years," said Reinharz. "So I could have saved myself a lot of controversy if I didn't create any of these products. I don't have to. It doesn't say so in my contract. But I think that's the role of the university, and that's why we spend so much time and effort in creating these programs."
Note: Due to a printing error, this article was not in the print copy of issue 1, volume 4 of the Brandeis Hoot.