The Issue Of Syria
Voice Of Support
2 speakers offer opposing views on WSU's links with Damascus U.
Staff Writer/Copy Editor
issues of relevance to Israel and the Jewish communi-
ty. Among its efforts is an online petition opposing
the WSU-Syria agreement, which, as of Feb. 3, had
amassed more than 270 signatures.
After Cohen's presentation, WSU board member
Richard Bernstein of Birmingham asked a few ques-
tions about the U.S. policy toward Syria. Before the
reply was complete, Dr. Reid asked that the discussion
be continued in private, and Cohen left the lectern.
he Wayne State University Board of
Governors rarely hears details from
President Irvin D. Reid about academic
agreements with foreign governments.
The Jan. 6 Memorandum of Understanding
between WSU and Syria's Damascus University was
"The president generally includes information
about this type of agreement in his annual report to
the board, unless there are special considerations,"
said Julie Miller, WSU board secretary. No board
vote is required to fund such agreements, she said.
So the six board members at the Jan. 29 general
meeting heard comments about the WSU-
Damascus agreement not from President Reid,
but from two community activists who had
Irvin D. Reid Bernstein
signed up in advance for the public.comment sec-
tion of the meeting.
The document they spoke of had been signed in
Though no one representing the Jewish
Damascus by Dr. Reid and Hani Mourtada, rector of Community Council of Metropolitan Detroit, the
Damascus University. WSU board members were not Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit's advocacy
informed about the agreement in advance. WSU
arm, attended the meeting, Executive Director David
Vice President and General Counsel Louis Lessem
Gad-Harf said he plans to express his concerns about
said the university president has the authority "to
the agreement personally with President Reid, "who
enter into contracts on behalf of the university."
has absolutely been a friend of the Jewish community
and Israel — institutionally and personally."
"How can we be the most effective?" Gad-Harf
said. "We decided to send a strong message to Irvin
The first speaker at the Jan. 29 meeting, Don
personally, not publicly."
Cohen of West Bloomfield, said Damascus
Federation President Lawrence Jackier said
University is "not a state-sponsored university. It's a
Wednesday he, Gad-Harf and Federation CEO
Robert Aronson will meet with Dr. Reid on Feb. 10.
And Syria, he said, is "an anti-American country,
an anti-Semitic country, an anti-Christian country."
As the WSU board adjourned, member Paul
'According to the U.S. State Department, Syria
Hillegonds of Plymouth said the presentations were
WSU President Reid's Statement thought
harbors 10 terrorist groups," Cohen said. "They are
provoking, but he declined to comment on
major supporters of Hezbollah; they occupy southern
the agreement itself "We all need more informa- ,
ne of the roles of the educator in a
Lebanon; they allow Iranian arms and money to
tion, he said.
democracy is to use the strengths of the
come through Syria to Hezbollah."
Bernstein, attending his first open board meeting
democracy to advance peace and
Listed by the State Department as a state sponsor
as a member of the WSU board of governors,
of terrorism, the Syrian government is prohibited
repeated his opposition to the agreement.
"The role of higher education is to build
from receiving U.S. assistance.
"I still think the whole thing is totally inappropri-
bridges across seemingly. impossible voids.
"Having an agreement with such a country besmirch-
ate," he said. "To enter into an agreement with a
"I will not be so presumptuous as to tell mem-
es the reputation of this university [Wayne State],"
sovereign state that does not only condone terror-
bers of the Jewish community about what
ism, but supports terrorism with financial assistance,
should upset them and what should not.
He concluded his allotted five minutes by suggest-
However, I hope that we receive the support of
ing four alternatives for the board and President Reid:
of the WSU board of governors
all communities in seeking peace and under-
• End the agreement immediately, or at least put it
first heard of the WSU-Damascus memorandum of
standing and I hope that the sharing of our
on hold until the board can hold a full discussion.
understanding from Bernstein at an executive board
higher education system, even with those who
• Speak out against the Syrian government.
meeting held earlier in January, after he learned of
may be our adversaries, can lead us to help in
• Include Syrian dissidents in any joint programs.
the Jan. 6 document from a Jewish News reporter.
reducing world conflict.
• Hold an educational forum to explore the situa-
At the executive board meeting, Bernstein said, he
"We may disagree about the means by which
tion in Syria.
moved that the agreement be dissolved, but
we achieve the goals of our democracy but, in
Cohen is the founder of OASIS (Optimizing
support from only one other board member,
the end, let us hope we can agree that the goals
American Support for the Israeli State), an Israel
board president Paul Massaron of Southfield.
themselves are not in dispute."
advocacy organization that also takes action on local
SYRIA on page 29
Also on the agenda was Nasser Beydoun, executive
director of the American Arab Chamber of
Commerce, who spoke in support of the agreement.
In addition to providing services and advocacy for
member businesses, the AACC co-publishes a
monthly glossy magazine, Community Bridges,
directed toward the Detroit area's Arab American
"Wayne State University is the school where the
largest Arab American student body in the nation is
being groomed," Beydoun began.
He said he had asked to speak "to thank WSU
and President Reid for the Memorandum of
Understanding between this university and
Damascus University. This agreement will open the
door to a frank, honest dialogue with one of the
oldest and most prestigious universities in the
According to the Damascus University Web
site, the university began with the Damascus
School of Medicin in 1903. In 1919, the
Institute of Law was founded and, in 1923, the
two colleges united as the Syrian University. The
university received its current name in 1958.
Tuition is free, and the number of students is
described, according to various Web sites, as anywhere
from 25,000-75,000 for the 1998-99 school year.
Beydoun said the United States should be "in
the forefront of reaching out to other countries."
"The 21st century will be marked as an era where
there was a clash of cultures, even religions," he said.
"In a world where information prospers, ironically,
ignorance also prospers. Does an enemy have to be
created along cultural lines?"
Unlike Communism, Beydoun said, Islam is not a
monolithic enemy. Instead, it is a religion practiced
by millions of peaceful people throughout the
world. After his presentation, Beydoun said he did
not mean to imply that opposition to the WSU-
University of Damascus agreement was anti-Muslim.