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PACBI-Israeli controversy roils AUC faculty, staff and students

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Caravan Online (AUC) | November 4, 2007

Israeli controversy roils AUC faculty, staff and students

After a controversial, loud and heated debate on relations between the American University in Cairo (AUC) and Israel, faculty senate officers adjourned last Wednesday's meeting when the session was declared out of control.

Instead, the senate will reportedly draw up and present a resolution on relations with Israel in a meeting on Nov. 14, which may be held in closed session to avoid a repeat of Wednesday’s raucous proceedings.

The issue, which first arose when Israeli scholars were invited to AUC as members of a conference being held here in July 2006, has sparked rumors, agitation and plans for strikes campus-wide.
Before last Wednesday’s meeting, the faculty initiated a forum on Oct. 17 to discuss whether they wanted AUC to invite students, scholars or faculty from any country that violates human rights. The forum was triggered by a request from a Palestinian organization asking universities outside Israel to boycott Israeli academics due to their country’s alleged apartheid policy.

But inaccurate speculation about AUC’s relations with Israel was already rife on campus.
According to Ahmed Abou Hussein, the president of the Development Organization (DO), the newspaper Al Masry al Youm published an article on Oct. 19 saying that AUC was considering policies to allow student and faculty exchanges with Israel.

“Many student leaders [who] had problems [with each other] put their differences aside to address this issue,” said Abou Hussein, explaining that he contacted several student leaders to take action against any AUC-Israeli contacts.

Egyptian authorities currently do not grant visas to Israeli students or work permits to Israeli scholars in Egypt, irregardless of any institution’s policies.

In a message to AUC faculty and staff last June, president David Arnold addressed the original issue about Israelis attending conferences at AUC: “In deciding whether to sponsor or host international seminars, public lectures or conferences which could include Israeli participants or attendees, the university has exercised discretion on a case-by-case basis, taking local conditions and campus safety factors into account.”

In clarifying Arnold’s statement, Provost Tim Sullivan was blunt: “There are no agreements with Israeli univesities. We don’t have any now, nor are we contemplating any and David Arnold never said we were.”

Students who had attended the faculty forum complained that they weren’t given a chance to voice their opinion during the meeting. In addition, in the Oct.31 senate meeting, a group of students raised their voices in objection to chair Fred Perry’s refusal to let them speak.

“The chairman doesn’t respect the students and he’s manipulative,” said Ahmed El Lozy, an AUCian who attended both the forum and senate meetings.
The debate --- and the alleged denial of student participation in it--- stirred up controversy and vehement emotions among students, faculty and staff.

Walid Kazziha, the chair of the political science department, was surprised that a resolution wasn’t proposed during the senate meeting; “ I’m [against] inviting Israelis to AUC. [As long as] Palestinians are denied their human rights and national self-determination on their own territories; I [will not] welcome them in my home or place of work. This does not mean that I can’t have a dialogue [with them] and exchange views.”
Perry stressed his disapproval of the manner in which the students expressed themselves: “The way it was being done today was totally out of order in the sense that students weren’t willing to follow the decorum of the senate. There is a very good possibility that the next meeting will be a closed meeting due to the way the students conducted themselves today.”

Ahmed Abou Laban, an AUC alumnus who had often organized sit-ins, protests, and donation campaigns in support of political and humanitarian causes, was invited to help students set an action plan to protest Israelis at AUC.

“ Nothing will happen through democracy. The faculty have the benefit of the time, the students don’t,” said Abou Laban.

Abou Laban plans to circulate petitions to increase student awareness on the issue, while Mohammed Yussr, Student Union (SU) president feels it is important to conduct surveys to gage student opinion.

The students will push for a written policy to not allow Israelis at AUC, said Abu Laban. On the other hand, if the administration votes for normalization with Israeli scholars, students will resort to sit-ins, strikes and communication with the local and international media.

They Don’t All Look Alike

Zionism is a political movement that arose amid growing anti-Semitism in the 19th century to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

Judaism is a monotheistic religion tracing its origins to Abraham and whose spiritual principles are embodied in the Hebrew Scriptures and the Talmud.

Israel is a country on the eastern Mediterranean Sea, established in 1948 following the British withdrawal from Palestine.

Posted on 15-11-2007

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