Letters to the Editor

Letter: University needs to be more transparent about the Israel Fund

The Wintersession course UNIV 1001: “The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Contested Narratives” was offered in January 2017 to 12 students. It was presented as being funded by the Global Experiential Learning and Teaching grant, though in reality it was financed by a University initiative called the Israel Fund. As students who participated in this course, we were shocked when we found out that the course was funded by the Israel Fund, as stated in a recent University press release. The Israel Fund is a donor-driven endowed fund established in late 2016 to allow University students and community members to “learn about Israel and from Israelis,” according to the press release. It is framed as a “regional studies” and has already raised $3.8 million of its $10 million goal to become an endowed fund.

We are deeply concerned with the omission of financial information about the Wintersession course, the way the course is being used to support the Israel Fund and the University’s overall lack of transparency with the Fund.

First, every student was explicitly told in writing at least three times that the Wintersession course was funded by GELT. The GELT grant is an initiative from the Dean of the College that finances courses “that embed an international travel component prior to, during or at the end of the course and for destination courses during Brown’s Wintersession.” In reality, the Israel Fund sponsored this trip — while GELT administered it — without notifying the students before, during or after the trip.

Second, a Feb. 25 Herald article — published with a picture of the group of students taking UNIV 1001 — portrays our course as the balanced centerpiece of the Israel Fund. This is deeply troubling for various reasons. The article effectively turns us, quite literally, into the faces of the Israel Fund despite the fact that we were never told that the Fund had anything to do with our course or that it existed at all. We participated in the course under the impression that we would study using a balanced approach — balanced of an approach as possible within a dynamic of oppressor and oppressed. However, it is important to note that presenting Israeli and Palestinian accounts as competing, symmetrical narratives despite the unequal histories and realities of the “conflict” is incredibly careless and fails to recognize this dynamic. Nevertheless, the fact that the course was funded by, and is now being used as an advertisement for, the Israel Fund shatters any claims of a balanced political approach altogether. Had we had this knowledge beforehand, we would have chosen not to participate. Furthermore, we are also alarmed that The Herald article’s author consulted only one student representative from the class when, in reality, students who took the course hold a range of opinions about it.

Third, we are deeply troubled by the lack of transparency surrounding the Israel Fund in general. Primarily, we do not know who is in charge of the Israel Fund. Moreover, prior to the establishment of the Fund, the creators did not consult or inform Brown students or professors, including the Middle East Studies department — which studies Israel-Palestine. There is a clear lack of publicly available information and public accountability, and this is worrisome.

We, as students who participated in the course, strongly object to our class being used as an advert for the Israel Fund. We want to know: Why were we not informed of the source of funding when we participated in the course? Who is directing this fund? Who are the donors, and what are their political motives? Who are we to hold accountable? Since we have been unwittingly used to promote and advertise the Israel Fund, we demand full transparency and critical dialogue with regard to its origins, composition and motives.

Rakan Aboneaaj ’19, Drashti Brahmbhatt ’19, Jessica Murphy ’19, Kudrat Wadhwa ’19

11 Comments

  1. If this were the response to literally any other minority donor there would be students marching all over campus in protest of the BDH and these authors.

    • “Minority donor”– what do you mean? Where in this article do the authors discuss minorities other than Palestinians? Millions of dollars are being funneled into the Brown Israel Fund. It is our right as students to know where this money is coming from and where exactly it is going.

      • Jews are 0.2% of the world and 2% of the USA. If that isn’t a minority, I don’t know what is.

        I agree that funding sources should be disclosed, but the article goes way beyond that. Tricia Rose makes students take an oath at the start of her class – is that apolitical? Do these students routinely investigate the grants of all their professors? I doubt it. As soon as Jews are involved in anything related to Israel it’s apparently nefarious propaganda.

        • Lex Rofes says:

          Nowhere in this article are Jews mentioned. You are assuming the funder(s) is/are Jewish. On what basis are you making that assumption? In a world where “pro-Israel” and Jewish are constantly conflated, might there be negative consequences to baseless assumptions like yours?

          Not saying, by the way, that the money is definitively not given by Jews. We have no way of knowing one way or the other. But to try and twist this into antisemitic bigotry, when it’s very clearly not about that is way out of line. Also, I think someone could argue quite easily that making an assumption that people with wealth, who are creating an Israel fund, are Jewish — without any evidence — perpetuates more antisemitic tropes than anything the students in this article wrote.

        • Evan B'19 says:

          As a Jewish person myself, it is upsetting that you are trying to twist this into an issue of anti-semitism.

          • Fellow Jewish student, I agree with you here. The authors make a fair point: they were unknowingly used to advertise a program. I did, however, find the other article on this topic (by Sophia Overall) blatantly antisemitic and accusatory toward the entire population of Israel.

          • Thanks for agreeing on this article–it seems clear!

            About the other article, I thought it was fantastic. I think there is a fine line to tread with respect to anti-semitism, and I don’t think that article crossed it. Given the governments and nation-states more broadly are comprised of individuals, criticisms of Israel warrant nuanced criticism that I think the author presents very well. To me, the article seemed to contextualize the Brown Israel Fund within broader Israel outreach and Israeli state practices in really helpful ways.

          • Maybe it’s different for me as a Jewish student with Israeli family, but it seems unfair to say that anyone interested in Israel’s technology scene is complicit in what the author sees as oppression. It’s akin to saying that students shouldn’t study American technology because it’s been used to make weapons, but you don’t hear anyone arguing for that. Why this double standard for Israel? It’s a clear attempt to politicize and delegitimize a fund that allows for the study of issues important to Jewish and Israeli students in the face of the one-sided narrative sculpted by the Middle East Studies department.

            One of the commenters on that article brought up the 3D Test of Antisemitism. No delegitimization of Israel, no demonization of Israel, and no double standards for Israel. That article pretty clearly fails.

          • It’s upsetting that you don’t see how blatantly it is

    • If these students weren’t told pertinent information that would have affected their decisions, and their experience was used without their consent for an undisclosed purpose, why should they not deserve more transparency from the university. Also, you posted the exact same reply to both articles concerning the BIF, and I don’t understand how this particular article is discriminating against any minority. These are just concerned students that want clarity about programs at Brown that they are a part of.

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