Many prominent American universities have condemned the decision by the American Studies Association to boycott Israeli academic institutions because it disapproves of how Israel treats Palestinian Arabs.
It is ironic that there is not a word of condemnation for any other countries, including Syria, where more than 100,000 Arabs have been slaughtered and chemical warfare banned by the world has been used.
Temple University is among those that joined the condemnation. And it can supplement its action with concrete illustrations of how cooperation with Israeli academic institutions has furthered the peace process — something the ASA presumably supports.
As director of the Temple Law School Israel program for the more that 25 years that the program existed, I can attest to the good that comes from such relationships.
In 1976, Peter Liacouras, then dean of the law school, agreed with Aharon Barak, then dean of Hebrew University Law Faculty, to establish a summer program for American students to study in Israel.
In 1978, I moved the program to Tel Aviv University and added courses on the Middle East peace process. Prominent Palestinians participated, including Saeb Erekat, now chief negotiator for the Palestinians, and Sari Nusseibeh, later president of Al Quds University in eastern Jerusalem. Our students attended lectures at Al Quds, and I, in turn, lectured to Palestinian students at programs arranged by the American Embassy.
Long before the Oslo Accords, I visited Gaza to arrange for Palestinians to participate in our program. Mohamed Abu Sha’aban, a likely candidate for major office in the future state of Palestine, attended a celebration with several presidents of Tel Aviv University. Later, my wife, Shulamith, and I visited Raji Sourani, director of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights in Gaza. He was trembling from a meeting with Yasser Arafat, then head of the Palestine Liberation Organization, who was demanding that he turn over all foreign currency donated to the center. Pictures taken there still adorn my desk at Temple Law School. We have maintained contact and learned recently that Raji’s children whom we saw as infants are now university students.
When peace came between Egypt and Israel in 1979, I arranged annual visits to Cairo University and the Egyptian Foreign Ministry with students and Israeli scholars, including the president of Tel Aviv University, to advance peace. Osama el Baz, senior adviser to President Hosni Mubarak, was my personal contact. Other Egyptian officials participated as well as Esmat Abdel Maguid, secretary-general of the Arab League. Later, an Egyptian academic and student joined our studies in Israel. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, then secretary-general of the United Nations, praised the program.
After peace between Israel and Jordan was established in 1994, Marwan Muasher, Jordan’s ambassador to Israel, lectured in the Temple program. Annual visits to Jordan by students and Israeli professors were instituted. I visited the president of the University of Jordan to discuss participation in our program.
Symposia on the peace process, under the Temple program’s auspices, were held first in Tel Aviv and later in Washington, Philadelphia, New York and Boca Raton. The Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Jordan and the United States participated. Proceedings from the 1996 symposium at Tel Aviv University was published in the Temple Law Review. The U.S. ambassador to Israel at the time, Martin Indyk, and Erekat took part.
Both are currently participating in the negotiations for peace in the Middle East arranged by Secretary of State John Kerry.
Participants in the Temple Israel program still cite it as the high point in their academic careers. On one trip to Egypt, the government arranged a party on the Nile with a banquet with music and a belly dancer topped off with the comment by an Egyptian official, “Isn’t this better than making war?”
Arab students lived in Tel Aviv University dormitories with American, Israeli and Jordanian students in the program. When we took an Egyptian student to dinner, 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 as Nobel Prize laureates, but also in their defense of Arab rights. Aharon Barak, a law professor and a retired president of the Supreme Court of Israel who is currently a visiting professor of law at Yale University, ruled, for example, that Arabs could not be excluded from Israeli housing. In the Harvard Law Review, he wrote an article, “A Judge on Judging: The Duties of A Judge in a Democracy” that has been required reading for democratic systems throughout the world.
This Temple Law School program should be made known in detail to all who may not realize the damage that inevitably will flow to American as well as Israeli academic institutions, and to the peace process itself, from the boycott that the ASA wants to impose upon Israeli academic institutions.
Burton Caine, a professor of law, is the past director of the Israel program at Temple Law School.