New York, NY, August 1, 2014
CONTACT: Professor Cary Nelson
212 366-1194 (After hours 347-583-7277)
Today, the Executive Committee of The Third Narrative’s Academic Advisory Council (AAC), a North American network of liberal and progressive scholars and academics, released a statement concerning educational programs intended to promote empathy in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and specifically the work of Professor Mohammed Dajani, formerly of Al Quds University.
In this time of crisis, when rockets and bombs are falling in Israel and Gaza, when kidnapping has emerged as a brutal tactic directed at children, it is critical that we recall recent efforts to build empathy on both sides of the conflict.
The AAC wishes to praise the “Heart of Flesh – Not Stone” research project funded by the German Research Foundation, in which Professor Mohammed Dajani took Palestinian students to Auschwitz in tandem with a trip by Israeli students from Ben Gurion and Tel Aviv Universities to the Dheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem. In the tradition of similar educational programs, including those developed by the Center for Creativity in Education and Cultural Heritage in Israel and the Shalom Hartman Institute, such efforts attempt to use knowledge and cross-cultural exchange to overcome the hostilities that have long shaped the Arab/Israeli conflict.
The AAC recognizes that collective memory of key historical narratives shapes people’s identity, sense of victimhood, and political struggles. Without equating the genocide of the Holocaust with what Palestinians call the Nakhba (literally “catastrophe”), we encourage educational programs that expose Palestinians and Israelis to one another’s perspectives despite the resistance and resentment they are bound to create.
Though we are not privy to the details surrounding Professor Dajani’s resignation, we deeply regret that his important efforts resulted in his departure from Al Quds University. As North American scholars seeking a two state solution, we support initiatives that strengthen academic freedom at Israeli and Palestinian institutions of higher learning and also promote better understanding and appreciation of one another’s historical narratives. We furthermore encourage collaboration and exchange among academics in Israel, Palestine, and North America and urge others to follow Professor Dajani’s example of using knowledge and mutual understanding to facilitate the peace process.
In contrast, all too often in the last year we have seen students and faculty attempting to prevent their peers from going on educational trips, engaging in cross-cultural exchanges, and attending conferences in Israel, the Occupied Territories, and Auschwitz. While we vigorously support engagement in difficult and, at times, contentious conversations, we strongly condemn threatening or bullying behavior. Administrators, campus staff, and faculty have a responsibility to speak out publicly against such infringements of academic freedom, to actively ensure the protection of students and faculty alike, and to create educational opportunities for positively engaging in dialogue about controversial issues.
The Third Narrative’s Academic Advisory Council (AAC) is comprised currently nearly 100 leading progressive scholars and academics who reject the notion that one has to be either pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian. The AAC believes that empathy for the suffering and aspirations of both peoples, and respect for their national narratives, is essential if there is to be a peaceful solution. Scholars and academics should play a positive role in asking difficult questions, and promoting critical thinking, about the Israel-Palestinian conflict. To achieve this goal the AAC insists on the importance of academic freedom and open intellectual exchange, and so rejects calls for academic boycotts and blacklists, as well as efforts to punish academics for their political speech, including even those who support the academic boycotts that we oppose.