Harvard University is declining to say when it will make a decision about keeping a controversial $2.5 million gift to fund its first chair in Islamic religious studies at the divinity school. This follows media reports that an Arabic research center accused of promoting anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism was shut down recently by United Arab Emirates President Sheik Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan, who is funding the Harvard chair.
Zayed has been pressured in recent months to disassociate himself from the Zayed Center for Coordination and Follow-Up in his country after a Harvard divinity student discovered the controversial programs sponsored by the center. Several reports last week said the Zayed Center closed because the UAE president withdrew his support, but Harvard spokeswoman Lucie McNeil told The Jewish Week that the reports do not amount to an official notification to the university.
"Therefore, Harvard has not made a decision about whether to keep the money," she said. On when the university will decide, McNeil said, "We hope sooner rather than later."
Rachel Fish, the student who exposed the connection between Zayed and the center and launched a campaign asking Harvard to return the money, called on the university to publicly explain why it is either going to keep the donation or turn it down.
"Who would have thought a country would make a decision before an American university?" said Fish, who recently graduated and moved to New York to work for an Israel advocacy group.
The Zayed Center in recent years has hosted a Holocaust denier and anti-Zionist authors.
Meanwhile at Columbia University, after months of anonymity, some funders of the new Edward Said chair of Middle East Studies have recently been disclosed. Critics have complained that Columbia failed to reveal who is funding the chair named for the noted pro-Palestinian activist. The chair was assumed this week by Rashid Khalidi, a former Middle East scholar from the University of Chicago.
Campus Watch, which monitors anti-Israel bias in Middle East university programs, said that according to its research and an article in the New York Sun, the funders include the Hauser Foundation, founded by attorney and peace activist Rita Hauser; the Olayan Charitable Trust, linked to the Olayan America Corp. in Saudi Arabia; and New York investor Gordon Gray Jr., a graduate of Columbia and Harvard. Gray told the Sun he donated "in excess of $500,000."