Friday, December 28, 2007

Sari Nusseibeh

It has come to my attention, through the Engage website, that there are a number of websites asking if Sari Nusseibeh is an antisemite. Among them, Campus Watch posts this as a message from James Russell:
I, James Russell, Mashtots Professor of Armenian Studies at Harvard University, have read the statement by Sari Nusseibeh in his official capacity as President of Al Quds University: "No Jew in the world, now or in the future... will have the right... to live... in East Jerusalem" and so on. In response I declare that I refuse to teach or collaborate in any way professionally with any person having any connection whatsoever to Al Quds University, which must be regarded as an anti-Semitic and racialist entity. Furthermore I will oppose by every possible means, including prosecution under the laws of the United States, any association or cooperation of Harvard University with Al Quds. I urge all scholars and teachers of good will to join me.

I find these words deplorable. Many people would disagree that Nusseibeh said anything questionable. Even from the abbreviated transcript from MEMRI, it is clear that Nusseibeh challenges the Palestinians to understand that the Palestinian Right of Return is an obstacle to peace. He has been one of the few Palestinian leaders pushing the Palestinian people to accept compromise.

I certainly support Russell's right to characterize Nusseibeh's words however Russell sees them, but to take the further step of refusing to work with anyone having any connection to Al Quds University is an outrageous overreaction. It is clear from Nusseibeh's history that he is not an antisemite but an admirable man striving to make peace. In a conflict where too few on either side are willing to take the necessary and difficult steps, he stands out for his opposition to the Palestinian Right of Return.

To characterize Nusseibeh as someone with whom you could not work would be to misjudge his character on the basis of a misjudgement of a single statement. As an academic, Russell should be sensitive to the academic freedom of all at Al Quds University, including Nusseibeh, regardless of their positions on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. To declare that Al Quds University is "an anti-Semitic and racialist entity" is not only Manichean but McCarthyist. But Manichean and McCarthyist, "You're either with us or against us," is typical of the right-wing in America these days, isn't it.

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