Attorney, author and human rights activist Michael Ratner has written an open letter to Brandeis University President Fred Lawrence to explain his decision to step down from the board of the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life at the school. He is the president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights and renowned for representing detainees held at Guantanamo Bay before the U.S. Supreme Court. As an American Jew, he is a determined supporter of Palestinian rights. Here, we reprint Ratner’s letter.
Dear President Lawrence:
By this letter, I am resigning from the advisory board of the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life at Brandeis. While I appreciate that you were willing to reappoint me for another term, I do not feel my service on that board is compatible with your suspension of Dr. Sari Nusseibeh, the president of Al-Quds University, from that board. In addition, in light of your suspension of Dr. Nusseibeh and of Brandeis’ relationship with Al-Quds, I will not be making further donations to Brandeis. My reasons, which I am making public, are set forth below.
On November 18, 2013, at your direction, Brandeis suspended its longtime partnership (since 2003) with Al-Quds, a Palestinian university located in Jerusalem, Palestine. At the same time, you suspended the president of Al-Quds, Sari Nusseibeh, from the advisory board of the Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life at Brandeis, a board on which I also serve.
I profoundly disagree with both of these actions. I believe that you have seriously harmed important exchanges that offered at least some hope for better understanding among the Brandeis and Al-Quds communities. As a result of your precipitous action, you have also besmirched the reputation of President Nusseibeh, a well-known scholar who has spent his life working for a peaceful solution between Palestine and Israel.
While I feel that your decision requires me to take these actions, I do so with some reluctance, because of my long association with Brandeis. As you are aware, I was an alumnus of Brandeis from the 1960s and attended during the time of the civil rights movement and the beginning of the Vietnam War protests. The school began to open my eyes to liberal and progressive politics. It was a place of intense discussion and debate with professors like Herbert Marcuse and speakers such as Malcolm X, Allen Ginsberg and Paul Goodman.
As I said when Brandeis gave me the 2006 Alumni Achievement Award, “Those years really changed my life. It’s clear that Brandeis is where I became an activist.” In 2006, I was also appointed to the advisory board of the Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life, which is involved with the Al-Quds relationship.
My understanding of the background to your actions is informed by a report requested by you and issued by three Brandeis faculty who visited Al-Quds a few days after the November 5, 2013, rally which ultimately precipitated the chain of events that led to the suspension of the relationship with Al-Quds and of President Nusseibeh from the board.I note that you suspended President Nusseibeh before you even received the report.
In response to the demonstrators’ conduct at the rally, President Nusseibeh issued a statement exhorting students and others to act in a way that promotes mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and the exchange of ideas. You, nevertheless, claim that President Nusseibeh’s statement was “unacceptable and inflammatory.” The findings of the report mentioned above are at odds with this claim and your justification for taking the actions you did. While the report found that the November 5 rally, which was not endorsed by Al-Quds, violated the guidelines for such rallies, it also determined “that university officials responded promptly and appropriately by communicating to both internal and external constituencies that the rally violated university policies and principles.”
The report also pointed out that President Nusseibeh’s letter of November 17 regarding the November 5 rally expressed no “intolerance or hatred.” Rather, it “was a genuine effort of a University president to reach his students in prose chosen to engage them in productive conversations about the values of peace and mutual respect.” The report disagreed with your suspension of President Nusseibeh from the board, stating that “this action does a serious disservice to a man with a long time record as a courageous man of letters and a man of peace.”
The report concluded with a call to Brandeis to resume and redouble its relationship with Al-Quds.
(As a parenthetical, the board disagreed with your suspension of President Nusseibeh, which was implemented without notification to Richard J. Goldstone, the chair of the Board.)
Subsequently, in early January, the three faculty returned to Al-Quds and met with more than 20 administrators and faculty from Al-Quds. The discussions were disturbing to say the least. The professors and administrators at Al-Quds were “very much surprised and hurt” by the suspension of the partnership and “particularly distressed that Brandeis would lend its name to what they saw as an effort to delegitimize Al-Quds University through accusations that it promotes or condones fascism and hatred,” especially as it worked with Israeli institutions.
Your treatment of Dr. Sari Nusseibeh upset everyone to whom they spoke. It was their view “that the most harmful result of Brandeis University’s actions was the damage to the reputation and dignity of their president wrought by the cumulative effect of the suspension of the partnership, of the language about Dr. Nusseibeh’s statement used on the website and repeated by the international press, and of the suspension of Dr. Nusseibeh from the advisory board of the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life.”
Yes, in some communities, especially those that have embraced stereotyped views of Palestinians, Dr. Nusseibeh’s reputation may have been harmed. But for those who understand a more nuanced picture of these events and are aware of what is occurring in Palestine and Israel, it is the reputation of Brandeis and yourself that have been damaged by these actions.
I cannot countenance these actions by you or Brandeis or be seen to endorse them by remaining on the board or continuing to support Brandeis. Apparently, even those Palestinians with the most moderate views are unacceptable partners and colleagues. That is unacceptable to me.