J Street Student Leaders to Repair Brandeis-Al Quds Relationship

UPDATED: Students for Al Quds get $10,000 grant after heckling former IDF spokesman

Rally at Al Quds University /
April 11, 2014

Two student leaders of J Street at Brandeis University who recently came under fire for heckling an Israeli soldier have been selected to help repair the school’s relationship with the Palestinian Al Quds University, which has hosted several anti-Israel terror rallies on its campus.

Brandeis was forced to sever its long-term partnership with Al Quds after it hosted a military rally last year that featured masked men performing the traditional Nazi salute. A second Hamas rally was held in late March.

Two leaders of J Street’s campus group, J Street U, were recently given an independent grant to travel to Al Quds and spearhead a "student dialogue initiative" aimed at repairing relations between the two universities.

The students—Eli Philip and Catriona Stewart—serve as the copresidents of Brandeis’s J Street U group. They most recently drew headlines for heckling a former IDF soldier who was speaking on campus.

The Al Quds dialogue initiative comes at a critical time for Brandeis, which is facing a fierce backlash for rescinding an honorary degree from the Islamic human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

The J Street leaders were awarded the $10,000 as part of the Davis Projects for Peace program, which encourages students to "design grassroots projects for peace."

Philip and Stewart wrote in their grant proposal that they are seeking to "create a framework for long-term student dialogue between Brandeis University and Al Quds University."

The duo hopes to "gain insight into their [Al Quds student’s] daily lives through a structured and intentional five-day trip in Jerusalem and the West Bank and post-trip weekly discussion meetings," according to the proposal.

Philip and Stewart wrote in their proposal that the December rally at Al Quds "appeared to many at Brandeis to be an anti-Semitic rally."

Others, including Middle East expert Tom Gross, who first reported on the rally, say that it most definitely was.

Al Quds students associated with Islamic Jihad’s campus faction donning black military gear and mock automatic weapons. They then marched across the school’s campus flashing the traditional Nazi salute.

"It bothers me very much that the school I am attending has a partnership with a school that inherently promotes death to Jews," Brandeis student Eve Herman told the Washington Free Beacon at the time.

J Street leaders Philip and Stewart say that the Nazi rally inspired them to pursue the new partnership, which will allow a delegation of Brandeis students to spend a week at Al Quds.

"We realized that this was the kind of moment for which the [Brandeis] partnership existed, a moment that could have resulted in learning and growth for both institutions," they wrote in their grant proposal.

The students claim that Brandeis’s decision to cut ties with Al Quds "lacked appreciation for [former Al Quds University head Sari] Nusseibeh’s desire to uphold the values of free speech and respect, as well as for the realities of life in the West Bank."

J Street U sparked a row on Brandeis’ campus late last year, when Philip and others were reported to have been "disruptive and rude" during a speech by former IDF spokesman Barak Raz.

"Philip and his [J Street U] colleagues were so disruptive during Raz’s talk that there were calls for him to resign his student leadership position for having embarrassed the Brandeis community," the Jewish Press reported at the time.

Raz later responded to the incident by stating that Philip "walked in [to the event], over an hour late, and aside from the disruptive chatter, missed the points that were made."

"The behavior you displayed was quite sub-par," Raz wrote, adding that "should you desire to continue this conversation, it’s probably best done in a way that reflects a little more integrity. I’m surprised that while you came to learn and listen, you refused to do that."

Philip, Stewart, and a Brandeis University spokesman did not respond to a request for comment on the grant.

However, Ellen de Graffenreid, a senior vice president for communications, told the school’s newspaper that the initiative "is consistent with Brandeis University’s principles of academic freedom and open dialogue on challenging issues."

UPDATE 4:25 P.M.: Brandeis University emailed the Free Beacon following the publication of this article to distance itself from the Davis Projects and the J Street U students' project.

"The Davis Projects for Peace is an outside foundation that is not affiliated with Brandeis University. Brandeis University does not play a role in selection of students who are the recipients of these funds," senior vice president for communications Ellen de Graffenreid wrote to the Free Beacon in an email.

The Davis Projects for Peace program is advertised and hosted on Brandeis's College of Arts and Sciences website. Brandeis is described as one of the David Projects' "partner institutions."

"The relationship with Al Quds University remains suspended and there are no plans at this time to reinstate it," she said.

Brandeis's communications department cannot quickly respond to press requests, she said.

"You emailed us at 11:29 a.m. and posted your story at 2:52 p.m.  Understandably, we are quite busy today and were not able to respond to your single request for comment instantaneously," she said.

"I respectfully request that you change your headline to reflect that Brandeis neither selected nor funded this student research project," Graffenreid wrote.

Published under: Anti-Semitism , Israel