Sari Nusseibeh, the president of the Palestinian Al-Quds University, on Wednesday condemned a November 5 Nazi-style demonstration by students affiliated with Islamic Jihad on the university’s main campus.
The demonstration, during which, Nusseibeh said he understood, participants made Nazi-style salutes and trampled on Israeli flags, was “inconsistent with the human values we try to teach” at the university and “misrepresented who we are and what we stand for.”
In protest over the demonstration and over an earlier statement by Nusseibeh which did not explicitly condemn it, Brandeis University on Monday suspended its partnership with Al-Quds, which had been in place since 1998. Brandeis President Frederick Lawrence said the university would re-evaluate the relationship in the future.
Speaking to The Times of Israel in his office on the university’s Beit Hanina campus on Wednesday, Nusseibeh said he hoped Brandeis would reconsider its position. “Needless to say, the event on the campus by this small group — trampling on Israeli flags and behaving as though sympathizing with Nazi or fascist ideology — in no way represents our university values, and we are constantly trying to prevent this kind of thing from happening.”
Asked directly whether he condemned the demonstration, Nusseibeh said “Yes.”
He said such events were rare on campus precisely “because we have created a different environment” and noted that Islamic Jihad was a very small faction among university students. Nusseibeh said the university has 12,000 students at its campuses in Abu Dis, el-Bireh and Beit Hanina.
Nusseibeh, who has been president of the university for almost 20 years, said he hoped Brandeis would reassess its stance, and that he worried its position “only strengthens those on the other side who call for boycotts of Israeli universities. It will be picked up by the people who say there is no future in these cooperations [with Israeli institutions]. We have been trying to say it is possible. Yes, there are obstacles but we try to overcome them. We can only overcome them by working together.”
Hopes for peace, Nusseibeh added, “rest on people from both sides who try to hold the reins and steer the whole situation toward ultimate reconciliation, and not allow extremist actions on both sides to blow up the whole thing.”
During the demonstration two weeks ago, protesters marched in black military gear with fake automatic weapons while waving flags and offering the traditional Nazi salute. Banners with images of Palestinian suicide bombers decorated the campus’ main square, according to a statement from Brandeis. Several students also portrayed dead Israeli soldiers.
Following the demonstration Lawrence called on Nusseibeh to issue in Arabic and English a condemnation of the demonstration.
In a statement issued to Al-Quds students Sunday, Nusseibeh said that “Jewish extremists” were using the demonstration to “capitalize on events in ways that misrepresent the university as promoting inhumane, anti-Semitic, fascist, and Nazi ideologies.” Without these ideologies, he said “there would not have been the massacre of the Jewish people in Europe; without the massacre, there would not have been the enduring Palestinian catastrophe.”
“As occurred recently, these opportunists are quick to describe the Palestinians as a people undeserving of freedom and independence, and as a people who must be kept under coercive control and occupation. They cite these events as evidence justifying their efforts to muster broad Jewish and western opinion to support their position. This public opinion, in turn, sustains the occupation, the extension of settlements and the confiscation of land, and prevents Palestinians from achieving our freedom,” Nusseibeh wrote.
The Brandeis University statement called Nusseibeh’s message “unacceptable and inflammatory.” It added: “While Brandeis has an unwavering commitment to open dialogue on difficult issues, we are also obliged to recognize intolerance when we see it, and we cannot – and will not – turn a blind eye to intolerance.”
It said that the partnership was formed more than a decade ago with an eye toward “opening a dialogue and building a foundation for peace,” and called the relationship “productive in many respects.”