An online article published April 4 by a pro-Palestinian news source criticized Lester Crown, the benefactor of the $25 million Crown Center for Middle East Studies, for his role on the board of directors of General Dynamics Corporation, a defense contractor with strong ties to Israel and the U.S. military.
The Web site alleges that Crown's involvement with General Dynamics will prevent unbiased scholarship at the new center, which opened last week. Shai Feldman, the Crown Center's director, declined to comment.
Speaking on behalf of University President Jehuda Reinharz, Executive Assistant to the President John Hose said the president has no knowledge of Crown's affiliations and denied accusations that he would exert influence over scholarship at the center.
"Mr. Crown is certainly not setting the Center's agenda," Hose wrote in an e-mail to the Justice. "What is relevant is what is happening at the Crown Center, not associations that Mr. Crown may or may not have or opinions that he does or does not hold on any topic. The Crown Center should be judged only by what the Crown Center does."
The article in the online magazine Electronic Intifada said General Dynamics Corporation made a major contract this year with an Israeli military technology company and said the ties may prevent the center from conducting unbiased research.
"There's not much financial incentive for either General Dynamics or Brandeis University to take any position which recognizes that the Israeli government must end its occupation of all the territory it illegally occupies," Bob Feldman wrote in the article.
Crown is the billionaire president of the Chicago-based diversified investment firm, Henry Crown and Company. He received an honorary degree for his philanthropic work at last year's commencement ceremony.
Reinharz recently accused other university centers for Middle East study of being "third rate." An official document from the Brandeis Development office reads, "Many of these centers have proved to be uneven in the quality of their research and biased in the interpretation of policy by focusing, often to the exclusion of other interests, on the Arab-Israeli conflict."
The document says the Crown Center will "provide the best thought and insight on the region, free of ideological bias or preconceptions and free of politics."
Reinharz has known Crown for ten years. Both served on the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations.
General Dynamics is a world supplier of land and amphibious combat systems and a manufacturer of armored vehicles, guns and ammunition handling systems.
Crown has been on the Board of Directors of General Dynamics since 1974.
In the center's opening conference on April 4 through 5, Shai Feldman said the center would "conduct research that is dispassionate and non-polemical."
Shai Feldman emphasized that the center would not advocate one point of view, but rather involve a range of perspectives in its scholarship.
Lester Crown's son James, the chairman of Henry Crown and Co., and Charles Goodman, the vice president of the company, also serve on the Board of Directors of General Dynamics.
That board also includes advisors of the U.S. military, including former U.S. Army Chief of Staff John Keane, former Chief of Naval Operations Jay Johnson and former U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Lester Lyles.