Middle East Studies At Brown: If You Thought It Couldn’t Get Worse, You Were Wrong
“Brown U. Professor to Head Terrorist University”
“Brown U. Professor to Head Terrorist University” was the title of an article that appeared in Middle East Forum late this past Spring. The professor is Beshara Doumani, the occupant of an endowed chair in Middle East Studies at Brown; the university Doumani will run at the beginning of the 2021/22 academic year is Birzeit University in Israel’s West Bank.
Doumani is a craven acolyte of the BDS movement dedicated to the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state, a proud supporter of an academic boycott of all Israeli institutions and in many respects the personification of BDS on the Brown campus. One reasonably could have concluded that the appointment to an endowed chair of an academic who believes in academic boycotts represented the nadir of Middle East Studies at Brown. But, no, with the recently announced Doumani/Birzeit connection, Middle East Studies at Brown, as a supposed academic undertaking, has fallen even further.
All one needs to know about Birzeit can be found on its website and in the institution’s May 26 post. The Birzeit website touts the institution’s “impact….on resistance” and its position as “a thorn in the side of the occupation”. It has glorified various of its suicide bomber graduates who wallowed in the twisted belief that killing Jews - men, women and children, the more the better - would somehow or another advance the Palestinian cause.
Birzeit’s May 26 post, following the Hamas launch of, ultimately, 4000+ rockets into Israel, calls for “concrete action to end Israeli colonialism and apartheid”. Most of the post is the entirely familiar, rote incantation of imagined and/or made up grievances and facts Palestinian leadership for decades has used to raise money to advance its public relations and media manipulation campaigns. The post rounds up the usual suspects to buttress its claims - Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Both organizations have long been perversely obsessed with Israel, while all too often minimizing or ignoring the conduct of countries that routinely engage in massive human rights violations. Neither has any credibility at all on Israeli/Palestinian issues; their purported analyses and conclusions are predetermined, and have been for years, and are a surprise to no objective observer.
The penultimate paragraph of Birzeit’s May 26 post states as follows:
”We call upon academic institutions and academics worldwide to boycott Israel and its complicit academic institutions, until it complies with its obligations under international law and by ending its regime of settler colonialism, occupation, and apartheid and respecting the right of return for Palestinian refugees.”
Hamas? Rockets, including rockets that Hamas misfired and killed Gaza residents? Neither is worth even a mention in Birzeit’s lengthy May 26 post.
Apartheid? Israel has 2 million or so Arab citizens. Among them are members of the Knesset (Parliament) and the Israeli judiciary including the Supreme Court; the Arab Ra’am political party is part of the coalition that makes up the new Israeli government. The ethnic cleansing claims, typically made in the same breath by the peddlers of the apartheid lie, are so completely unhinged that they merit no attention from any serious person. Both assertions are the province of those who choose to be willfully ignorant of the facts or who are devotees of the power of Joseph Goebbels-style big lies.
But the question is not whether Birzeit is free to publish ahistorical, fact-free nonsense about the Jewish State of Israel. Birzeit is free to publish whatever fantasies it chooses. The question is how any professor at Brown, much less the holder of an endowed chair, could even come under consideration to head Birzeit, much less accept the job. The short answer is that Doumani and Birzeit are a perfect match - Doumani, it turns out, has a long history with Birzeit. The Doumani/Birzeit connection also is a perfect reflection of much of what Middle East Studies at Brown has become - just another academic platform for Palestinian agitprop.
But it gets worse. It is not just that Doumani is now the face of Birzeit and that Birzeit’s positions, including its May 26 post, can fairly be attributed to its new president. According to Brown’s announcement, Doumani will continue to hold his endowed chair at Brown while president of Birzeit. And when Doumani’s Birzeit presidency ends, he will return to Brown. The notion that following a two year stint running Birzeit Doumani could return to Brown as a credible academic is laughable.
To be sure, American academics often take leaves from their universities to teach or take administrative positions at universities around the world. But surely minimal standards must apply before universities approve such leaves. What standards did Brown apply in granting Doumani leave to run Birzeit? Birzeit, after all, is hardly a normal academic institution. If, for example, there were an overseas “university” which embraced the racist, anti-Semitic values of the KKK, would a professor at Brown who enthusiastically embraced those values and who then left Brown to be the president of that “university” be welcomed back to an endowed chair when his presidency ended? Of course not - that professor would have forfeited his right to represent Brown in any capacity. If Brown did little or no due diligence on the demonstrably false assertions and anti-Semitic positions routinely espoused by Birzeit and many of its prominent alumni before granting Doumani leave to run that institution, Brown failed its community miserably. On the other hand, if Brown actually did review Birzeit’s positions and nevertheless approved Doumani’s leave to head Birzeit, Brown’s failings are even more astounding.
Especially given the startling rise in anti-Semitism in the United States and around the world, including on so many university campuses here and abroad, much of which is attributable to the determination of the BDSers and their collaborators in academia to erase thousands of years of history to delegitimize and eliminate the world’s only Jewish state, Brown’s administration and trustees now have an opportunity to do the right and principled thing. It really is quite simple even taking into account tenure and other administrative issues - give Doumani a choice. He can immediately forgo his presidency of Birzeit and retain his endowed chair at Brown, notwithstanding how problematic that has been and would continue to be, or continue his decades-long association with Birzeit and forgo his position at Brown. He can have Brown or Birzeit, but not both. Brown owes its students and alumni nothing less.
Willis J. Goldsmith, Brown ‘69.