Op-ed: Why did Temple stand with Israel?

Was Temple right in ignoring a boycott of Israeli universities?

The American Studies Association has voted to boycott Israeli academic institutions because many American professors disapprove of how Israel treats Palestinian Arabs. And yet, there has not been a word of condemnation from the association for any other countries, including Israel’s neighbors, Syria, where more than 100,000 Arabs have been slaughtered – many with chemical weapons – and Egypt, where democracy has been overthrown by a military coup.

Prominent American universities have condemned the ASA boycott, and Temple joined the list in January.

Temple is absolutely right, and it should have supplemented its action with concrete illustrations of how its history of cooperation with Israeli academic institutions and others has furthered the goals that the ASA claims it supports. As director of the Temple Law School Israel Program for more than 25 years, I am in a position to describe that history.

In 1976, Temple Chancellor Peter Liacouras, then-dean of the law school, entered into an agreement with Professor Aharon Barak, then-dean of Hebrew University Faculty of Law, to establish a summer program for American students to study in Israel.

When I joined the Temple Law School in 1978 and became director of the Israel program, I moved it to Tel Aviv University to improve access to the Middle East peace process. Courses in the peace process were added with prominent Palestinians participating. These included Sari Nusseibeh, whose family in Jerusalem goes back hundreds of years and who later became president of Al-Quds University in East Jerusalem. Students would later attend lectures there. Later, I lectured to Palestinian students under the auspices of the American embassy.

When peace came between Egypt and Israel, I arranged annual visits to Egypt to discuss how this American-Israeli program could include Arab countries to foster the peace process. Butros Butros-Ghali, then Secretary General of the United Nations, praised the program.

When peace was established with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Marwan Muasher, the Jordanian ambassador, lectured in the program. Annual visits to Jordan by students and Israeli professors were instituted. In addition, I inaugurated symposia on the peace process in Israel and various cities in the United States, including Philadelphia. High-ranking diplomats from the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Jordan and the United States participated. The symposium at Tel Aviv University on July 17, 1996 was published in the Temple Law Review. United States Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk represented this country and Professor Saeb Erekat represented the Palestinian Authority. Both of these diplomat-scholars are presently representing their countries in the negotiations for peace in the Middle East arranged by Secretary of State John Kerry. Representatives from Jordan and Egypt, as well as Israel, participated.

Students in the Temple Israel Program from all over the United States together with Israeli professors participated in our academic efforts to advance the peace process and many have cited the visits as the high point in their academic studies. On one of the excursions to Egypt, the government arranged a party on feluccas, a type of sailboat, on the Nile where a banquet with music and belly dancers was topped off with the comment by an Egyptian official, “Isn’t this better than making war?”

Palestinian students not only participated in classes but also lived in Tel Aviv University dormitories with American, Israeli and Jordanian students in the program. When we took an Egyptian student to dinner at a restaurant in Tel Aviv, he took a napkin with Hebrew writing to show his bride-to-be that peace with Israel was possible.

Israeli scholars have been prominent not only for their academic achievements and as Nobel Prize laureates, but also in their defense of Arab rights. Barak, who recently retired as president of the Supreme Court of Israel, has been especially prominent. Barak was selected by the Harvard Law Review, the preeminent scholarly legal journal, to write an article on the duties of a judge in a democracy. It has been required reading for democratic systems throughout the world.

This pioneering program by Beasley School of Law to advance knowledge and further the peace process in the Arab-Israel conflict should be made known in explicit detail to all who may not realize the damage that will flow inevitably to American as well as Israeli academic institutions, and to the peace process itself, from the boycott that the ASA has voted to impose upon Israeli institutions of higher learning.

Burton Caine is the former director of Temple Law’s Israel program. He can be reached at  bcaine@temple.edu. 

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