Harvard University has agreed to return a $2.5 million gift from the president of the United Arab Emirates, Sheik Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, the university said last week. It's an example that the rest of the higher education establishment — including the part of it that is based here in New York — would do well to pay close attention to.
Sheik Zayed had asked for his money back because Harvard had put the donation on hold after students protested. A student at the Harvard Divinity School, Rachel Fish, and a group of her fellow students found close ties between the sheik and the Abu Dhabi-based Zayed Center for Coordination and Follow-up, which was funded by Sheik Zayed and served as the think tank of the Arab League. The Zayed Center has hosted Thierry Meyssan,a French author who claims that the American Army masterminded the September 11,2001,attacks.According to the Anti-Defamation League, the center also claimed in promoting an August 2002 symposium on "Semitism" that "Israel has indulged in spreading lies and exaggerations about the holocaust in order to squeeze out huge sums of money from European countries."
The money, originally pledged in 2000, was to endow a professorship in Islamic studies at the Harvard Divinity School. In March 2003 the Harvard students brought 130 pages of research about the center to the divinity school dean, William Graham, who hired a private researcher to investigate. Meanwhile, the students organized petitions that were signed by hundreds of divinity school teachers, students, and alumni. In August 2003 the United Arab Emirates shut down the Zayed Center for engaging in "a discourse that starkly contradicted the principles of interfaith tolerance." However, Ms. Fish says that because Sheik Zayed has never disassociated himself from other instances of rank anti-Semitism emanating from his country, Harvard should still steer clear of him.
After negotiations last summer with the United Arab Emirates, Harvard decided to put the money on hold for the 2003 to 2004 academic year.
Press reports have quoted unnamed United Arab Emirates officials describing the effort to force Harvard to return the money as "a clear Zionist campaign."The Emirates' diplomats in Washington are quoted even as denying that Sheik Zayed was connected to the Zayed Center,which is a preposterous claim, considering that he funded it and that his son, the deputy prime minister, served as its founding chairman.
Besides his involvement in the think tank, Sheik Zayed has ruled the UAE as unelected president since 1971, and his country's poor human rights record has been documented by the State Department. Ms. Fish, 24, who graduated from the Harvard Divinity School in 2003 and now resides and works in New York, deserves congratulations for pressing Harvard to make the right decision on this one. Harvard's decision to give the money back also sets an example for Columbia, which, according to the Columbia Spectator, accepted $200,000 from the government of the United Arab Emirates to fund the Edward Said chair in Middle Eastern Studies that is now occupied by Rashid Khalidi.
Got that? Harvard gave back the $2.5 million from the sheik who has been president of the United Arab Emirates since 1971. Columbia, meanwhile, having no such qualms, is using the $200,000 from the United Arab Emirates to fund Professor Khalidi.