The president of Lincoln University, a local historically black college that employs a professor who made comments calling for the destruction of Israel, recently visited the Jewish state as part of a program to build partnerships between Israeli and American universities.
A delegation of leaders from U.S. schools spent one week in Israel participating in an American Jewish Committee program, Project Interchange. They visited Tel Aviv University, The Technion — Israel Institute of Technology and Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Other schools represented on the trip included Barnard College, University of California, Berkeley and Texas State University.
Lincoln president Robert Jennings said he visited Israel primarily to explore opportunities for building exchanges with Israeli universities. He told The Jerusalem Post that he was “very optimistic” about the possibility of creating such relationships.
Jennings, who previously was president and CEO of Alabama A&M University, was not at the Chester County college when a video surfaced in 2010 of tenured professor Kaukab Siddique saying, “We must stand united to defeat, to destroy, to dismantle Israel — if possible by peaceful means.”
When asked in an interview with the Exponent about strengthening relations with the Jewish community through his visit to Israel, Jennings said, “I didn’t go there to strengthen any relationship with the Jewish community.”
Jennings said Siddique’s comments also did not play a role in his visit.
“That was not something that happened on my watch, and I really can’t speak to that,” he said.
Marcia Bronstein, regional director of AJC’s local office, said her group had recommended Jennings for the trip because representatives from the school have been receptive to meeting with Jewish groups in the aftermath of Siddique’s comments. She said her organization hoped that Jennings’ visit to Israel would help build the relationship between AJC and Lincoln and, by extension, with the larger Jewish community.
She said she had not spoken to Jennings since he returned July 7, but she sounded optimistic about connecting with the school, even after hearing Jennings’ comments that his focus was not about strengthening relations with the Jewish community.
“You come back transformed from an experience like that. How it’s going to play out we don’t know. It makes all the difference in the world when you read the newspaper versus when you’re standing on the ground in Israel,” she said.
Though he took the time to answer only a limited number of questions from the Exponent, Jennings did say that Israel is a place he had wanted to visit to explore his Christian faith.
“I was able to see where my savior walked, where he was crucified and rose again,” he said. “It’s always been a place that I’ve wanted to go to.”
Jennings said he was shocked to see the security barrier separating Israel proper from the West Bank and was “a little appalled” that young people on both the Israeli and the Palestinian sides were not taking a more active role in trying to move the peace process forward to a two-state solution.
“Where are young people in terms of saying, ‘The older generation, those in power, have been discussing the peace process for more than 25 years.’ Usually younger people want to see something move faster. Where are the young people who say, ‘Let’s go. Let’s get on with it,’ ” he said.
Rabbi Howard Alpert, the executive director of Hillel of Greater Philadelphia who was involved in some of the dialogue with Lincoln University after the Siddique incident, said it’s important to “not always react in a defensive mode” after comments like Siddique’s but rather to try to build relationships with such institutions that could be friendly to the Jewish community. He said Jennings’ participation in the AJC program is an encouraging sign.
He added, “We’ll allow the university to take other steps as it chooses to.”