Egypt, Israel And Academia (Guest Voice)
The following Guest Voice post is by Charlie Gandelman, a student who studied in Egypt and is an Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies Major at Brandeis. Editor’s Note: I never met Charlie but he found me and TMV on the Internet. When I saw his writing, I invited him to do a Guest Voice post. This is his first and is cross posted on his blog. Guest Voice posts do not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Moderate Voice or its writers.
Egypt, Israel And Academia
by Charlie Gandelman
From the first days I arrived at The American University In Cairo, I often heard talk of the university “normalizing” relations with Israel. The term does not have an exact definition, but what I came to understand was that a “normal” relationship is one in which there is no boycott, like the way AUC and any American university interact. From what I understand, right now the status between AUC and Israeli academia is in limbo, somewhere between a boycott and an established relationship.
In the last few weeks, however, the faculty senate, responding to the normalization rumors, passed a resolution condemning the idea of a normal relationship with Israeli academia–supporting a boycott of it.
The article can be seen HERE.
I found it extremely dissapointing that the academic leaders of this institution supported this boycott, given the unique opportunity for dialogue and understanding were AUC and Israeli institutions to establish some sort of relationship. I wrote a letter to the editor expressing this sentiment and was published in this week’s issue.
Since I first wrote the letter as a much longer Op-Ed, I will post the link to the letter to the editor and post the Op-Ed itself here.
Last week, I read with great disappointment that The American University in Cairo’s faculty senate passed a resolution calling for the community to refrain from normalizing relations with Israeli academia. It is an unfortunate reality that the senate members’ personal biases and self-righteous indignation are serving to undermine a historic opportunity for the community and country they are supposedly striving to enlighten. While AUC could have led a breakthrough initiative of tolerance and understanding, the senate decided that their political grudges were more important than advancing the causes of academic integrity and bi-cultural understanding.
The main reason the senate passed the resolution is from political disapproval and anger towards Israel. The senate feared that that normalizing relations would somehow condone Israel’s actions—that the institution of Israeli academia is an extension of the government’s doctrines. As Professor Sherif El Musa points out, it is unfortunate and heartbreaking that he cannot return to Gaza and many of the students’ educations there are put on pause. El-Musa and the senate, seeing and even experiencing the suffering of the Palestinians under the Israelis, in no way want to excuse the government’s behavior by establishing ties with prominent Israeli institutions.
But establishing ties with Israeli academia and condoning the government’s actions are two very separate actions.
Believing that Israeli academia is an instrument for furthering the conflict is as false as the claim that the AUC is a tool of Mubarak’s autocratic rule. If the universities represent the same principles as the supposedly racist and cruel government, then why do hundreds of Israeli-Arabs attend and graduate from Israeli Universities every year alongside their Israeli classmates? Israeli academia does attempt to think independently of their government’s policies and examine a diversity of opinions. Israeli academia deserves admiration, not a boycott, for this academic pursuit. It’s a pity the AUC faculty cannot pursue this same hallowed principle.
As an academic institution committed to furthering understanding, the AUC senate’s rejection of Israel academia is so unfortunate because it deprives students a perspective they will perhaps never study or see. Instead of viewing every Israeli citizen as a monster who is stealing Palestinian land in cold blood, as Copy Editor Khouloud Khalifa asserted in her column last week,
Egyptians with such one sided opinions could perhaps interact with an Israeli person not much different from themselves, struggling with the weight and complexities of decades of violence. With normalization, Egyptians could perhaps experience firsthand that many Israelis are thoughtful, compassionate and committed to peace.
A normalized relationship with Israeli institutions is a path to regional tolerance and respect. I am bewildered that the senate finds issue with these honorable qualities.
Normalization is not just a benefit for Egyptian intellectualism and cultural understanding, but also a path to aiding the Palestinian cause.
Sitting in an Ivory Tower, glowering upon their Israeli neighbors, the AUC Senate is doing nothing to encourage change or foster dialogue that could alter policy and alleviate Palestinian suffering. In a normal relationship with Israel, AUC could encourage Israeli universities to offer more spots to Palestinians, even the ones currently locked in Gaza.
AUC could also send deeply passionate students and professors to Israeli Universities to attempt to raise awareness of Palestinian issues and induce sentiments of change among future leaders. Scenarios such as these would actually aid the suffering of the Palestinians, but the Senate decided a complete boycott, in which encouragement is impossible and the possibility of inducing change is far lower, is the preferable method.
Sadly, the senate faculty wants the administration to take a pass on this potentially groundbreaking and watershed moment in the history of Israeli-Arab relations. What defines that relationship right now, among the majority of Egyptians and AUC students, is hatred, intolerance and disrespect, which the boycott only serves to bolster. This university could send a strong message to the world: the American University in Cairo is more committed to intellectual pursuits and healing regional wounds than serving our faculty and student’s one sided political beliefs and interests.
Steering from controversy is not the job of a university academic body. Our enlightened community members must be the forerunners of change, leaders who seek even unpopular methods to upgrade the university’s intellectual atmosphere.
If the administration truly believes that the American University in Cairo is a leading academic institution of the Middle East, it will cast aside the rhetoric and prejudices and take a historic risk. By normalizing relations with Israel, the administration can elevate the University’s intellectual environment, aid the Palestinian cause, and advance understanding, tolerance and hope in a regional conflict that sorely needs it.
It is my hope that the university administration, seeing this historic opportunities lying before it, ignores the faculty senate’s advice.