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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


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