Some Jewish liberals got a terrible shock last week when British journalist Tom Gross broke a story about a fascist-style military rally held on the campus of Al Quds University. Al Quds is a Palestinian college located in Jerusalem and has had an academic partnership with both Brandeis University and Bard College in the United States. The rally was organized by the Al Quds branch of the Islamic Jihad group (though it was joined by much of the rest of the student body that joined the jihadi storm troopers in marching on an Israeli flag) and followed two other demonstrations sponsored by Hamas to honor suicide bombers at the school.
The story about the event, illustrated by a much-circulated picture of the Islamic Jihad group in black uniforms and masks giving a Nazi-style salute, posed a dilemma for Brandeis. While no one in charge at Bard seemed particularly exercised about the fact that their partner held pep rallies for terrorism the way a typical American school does for football or basketball, Brandeis is an avowedly Jewish institution and when the Washington Free Beacon posed a question about what it was doing in a relationship with such a place, the university was initially flummoxed and hunkered down, offering no comment about the story even as many of their students and faculty expressed outrage. It took more than a week, but yesterday Brandeis extracted its head from the sand and President Frederick Lawrence announced that it was reevaluating its relationship with Al Quds. Lawrence’s move came after he called on Al Quds President Sari Nusseibeh to condemn the rally in Arabic and English. Instead, the renowned Palestine “moderate” rationalized the rally, defended the students, and blamed the controversy on “vilification campaigns by Jewish extremists” leaving Brandeis no choice but to back out of their relationship.
But there’s more to this story than just this distressing exchange. The problem here is not just that terror groups are as accepted at Palestinian universities—even those that are generally respected abroad as Al Quds is—as sports teams are at their American counterparts. It’s that most Americans, including American Jews like those who run Brandeis, haven’t a clue about why this is so or how pervasive this trend is in Palestinian society.
If much of the discussion about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians on college campuses and throughout the rest of the American liberal world seem so skewed it is not just because Israel is often unfairly smeared as an “apartheid state.” It is also because many Americans simply don’t know the first thing about contemporary Palestinian culture. Websites like Palestine Media Watch and Memri, which provide constant updates about what is broadcast and printed by Palestinian sources, could give them a quick lesson about how deeply hatred of Israel and the Jews is embedded in popular Palestinian culture as well as its politics. But those who bring up these unhappy facts are more often dismissed as biased extremists who don’t understand the Palestinians.
But the point about campus activities at Al Quds is that there is nothing exceptional about large groups of students demonstrating their hate for Israel and their devotion not to Palestinian nationalism but its extreme Islamist adherents such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad that call for the death of Jews. Such groups are not just welcome at Palestinian schools but an essential part of the fabric of student life as well as the general culture.
Thus, the shock here is not that Brandeis (if not Bard) has been alerted to the true nature of their partner and even a respected front man like Nusseibeh. Rather, it’s that it never occurred to anyone in authority at Brandeis that this was the inevitable result of any cooperation with Al Quds. If it had or if more American academics got their heads out of the sand and realized the cancer of hate that is still the dominating feature of Palestinian political culture, the assumption that Israel is the villain of the Middle East conflict might be challenged more often.