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Center for Constitutional Rights president emeritus Michael Ratner says strong Zionist influences have taken a stranglehold over the university

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JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore. And welcome to this edition of The Ratner Report. Now joining us is Michael Ratner.

Michael Ratner is a president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights, and he’s also a board member of The Real News Network.

Thank you for joining us, Michael.


DESVARIEUX: So, Michael, you recently resigned from the ethics board at Brandeis University. Can you just tell us what happened?

RATNER: Well, I wanted to talk about it a bit not just because I resigned, but because it of course involves Brandeis University, originally a Jewish-founded university and still has that kind of ethics. It also involves Palestine and a university in Jerusalem called Al-Quds and the president of that university, Sari Nusseibeh. And it was the relationship between Sari Nusseibeh, Al-Quds, and Brandeis that has really called into question my remaining on the Brandeis board and the actions they took against Sari Nusseibeh and Al-Quds.

The board I’m on is called the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life at Brandeis, and it’s involved with the Brandeis University relationship with Al-Quds University, which is in Jerusalem, Palestine.

I resigned, really, in protest because Brandeis’s treatment of a fellow board member, no longer a board member. Sari Nusseibeh is a Palestinian and noted scholar and, importantly, the president of Al-Quds. The president of Brandeis, Fred Lawrence, suspended Sari Nusseibeh from the ethics board I was on, and he suspended the Brandeis relationship with Al-Quds, which had been in place since 2003, an 11-year relationship. Because I disagreed so profoundly with those actions, I had no choice but to resign.

At the core of the dispute or at the core of the actions by the president of Brandeis (I wouldn’t say dispute) and the failure of the board of trustees of Brandeis to really scream about it, we can see what’s being said is a lot about how impossible it is in the United States to have even the most moderate Palestinian voices heard. And Sari Nusseibeh was a very moderate Palestinian voice.

The dominant narrative of uncritical support of Israel still rules in the United States. And then a university, where liberal values should rule, sets aside those liberal values when it comes to Palestine. And I should know, because I went to Brandeis in the late ’60s, and my own experiences in that period were at a time when it was an extremely liberal university, left-wing. Herbert Marcuse, a Marxist professor, taught there. Malcolm X spoke there and I heard him. There was the activism of the civil rights movement, the beginning of the anti-Vietnam War movement. And it’s really in many ways where I began my activist career. And it’s sad to see that those liberal values have been so set aside when it comes to anything to do with Palestine.

As I said, the actions were not only harmful to Sari Nusseibeh’s reputation, but they at least were–and they were in addition harmful, obviously, to the relationship to Al-Quds, which was a relationship in which there were student exchanges, etc., and it could have led to a much better understanding, at least among some members of Al-Quds and Brandeis, the situation in Palestine.

Here’s the story how it happened.

Al-Quds has many different student groups, like any other university. In the case of Al-Quds, they’re often related to outside political groups. So there’s a student group related to the Palestinian Authority, a student group related to Hamas, many different elements of the politics of Palestine coming to the student groups.

In November 2013, there was a demonstration against the occupation in Al-Quds University, at Al-Quds, and apparently it was a very dramatic demonstration. Israeli flags were stepped on and other actions were taken by a particular student faction that actually went against guidelines for demonstrations at Al-Quds. In no way was the demonstration authorized by Al-Quds or the actions there. In fact, as I said, it went against the guidelines.

Sari Nusseibeh, who is a fellow board member, or was a fellow board member on the ethics board at Brandeis, the president of Al-Quds was critical of the demonstration, issued a statement exhorting the students and others to act in a way that promotes mutual respect, peaceful coexistence, and the exchange of ideas.

But apparently what Sari Nusseibeh said was not enough for Fred Lawrence, the president of Brandeis. Somehow, that president called Sari Nusseibeh’s statement unacceptable and inflamatory. Hard to understand. I’ve read the statement. It’s hard to believe he could say that about what Sari Nusseibeh said. And he then suspended Sary from the board I’m on without even notifying anyone on our board, including the president, Richard J. Goldstone, who is the author of the Goldstone Report, and he suspended the relationship with Al-Quds.

In the wake of that, Brandeis then sent a fact-finding mission to Al-Quds to find out more about the situation. Three faculty went there. But the president, before he suspended the relationship, did await the report of the fact-finding mission. Three faculty from Brandeis came back, and you can–let’s say there’s at least some good in the world, or at least some good among the Brandeis faculty. And that fact-finding mission determined, quote, that university officials responded promptly–that’s university officials at Al-Quds–and appropriately by communicating to both internal and external constituencies that the rally violated university policies and principles. Sari Nusseibeh’s letter about the situation expressed no intolerance or hatred. Rather, they said it was a genuine effort on the university president to reach the students with the values of peace and mutual respect.

The report of Brandeis’s own faculty disagreed with the suspension of President Nusseibeh from the board, as well as the suspending of the relationship with Al-Quds, and asked Brandeis to resume the relationship with Al-Quds and redouble its efforts. Despite this, no action by president Fred Lawrence. Al-Quds remains suspended in its relationship with Brandeis. Sari Nusseibeh, who was quite upset by the suspension of himself from the board, has not been asked to return, as far as I know, but I don’t think he would return in any case.

I sent the president of Brandeis a long letter, resigning from my ethics board. They had originally said they would reappoint me. I said no. And what I said was this. Yes, in some communities, especially those that have embraced stereotyped views of Palestinians, Dr. Nusseibeh’s reputation may have been harmed by what Brandeis did. 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, President Lawrence, that have been damaged by these actions.

And in my final paragraph, 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.

And I want to end with two final points. The first one is this is to me a case, a dramatic case, of the Zionist establishment in the United States dictating the rules to Palestinians and believing that they have a right to dictate those rules or attempting to dictate those rules. And if you don’t, as Palestinians, do precisely as we–he’s what I would have to say very, very perhaps conservative or, certainly, very strong Zionists–if you don’t do what they say, they will, with a flick of your finger, push you away and say you were gone. I think that’s an important point in understanding the power dynamics in what is going on here. Powerful institutions in the Global North, in the U.S., in this case a Zionist institution, with a flick of a finger got rid of a moderate Palestinian [incompr.] relationship to a university that I feel was important for at least making some inroads into understanding Palestine.

I want to end on a slightly more positive note, and that is this: as the narrative on Palestine begins to change in the United States, particularly at universities across the country, we’re seeing more protests, we’re seeing the BDS campaign, the boycott, divestment, and sanctions take off. We’re seeing a new sort of narrative beginning to emerge, more dissent and protests. The bastions of places of Zionism like Brandeis, which will not accept any other narrative, will make themselves even more fortress-like. They make themselves harsher.

So in a small way what Brandeis did here, what Brandeis did here was really a reaction to the fact that the rights of Palestinians and the rights of Palestinians to a homeland are making progress. But that’s the only positive thing I can take out of it. But that’s an important one.

DESVARIEUX: Alright. Michael Ratner, thank you for your report.

RATNER: And thank you for having me on The Real News.

DESVARIEUX: And, of course, you can always follow us on Twitter at The Real News. And feel free to send me questions and comments @Jessica_Reports.

Thank you for watching The Real News Network.


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Michael Ratner is President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) in New York and Chair of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights in Berlin. He is currently a legal adviser to Wikileaks and Julian Assange. He and CCR brought the first case challenging the Guantanamo detentions and continue in their efforts to close Guantanamo. He taught at Yale Law School, and Columbia Law School, and was President of the National Lawyers Guild. His current books include Hell No: Your Right to Dissent in the Twenty-First Century America, and Who Killed Che? How the CIA Got Away With Murder.

NOTE: Mr. Ratner speaks on his own behalf and not for any organization with which he is affiliated.