Behind the Headlines Capitulation Under Pressure
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Behind the Headlines Capitulation Under Pressure

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The action by the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies in withdrawing its invitation to an Israeli academician and its failure to invite any other Israeli to participate in its seminar on the Arab world was characterized by a well informed source as being the first time a ranking American academic institution capitulated to pressure.

The scenario involves; in addition to the Aspen Instiute, the Fluor Corporation whose contracts with Saudi Arabia are said to run into the billions of dollars, the East-West Foundation which was established by the Fluor Corp. and the State Department.

The Aspen Institute, headed by Robert Anderson, chairman of the Atlantic Richfield Company, invites academicians, government leaders and business magnates to seminars on public affairs. It is currently conducting a seminar in Aspen, Colo, on “The Arab World in Transition.” A Palestinian academician on the faculty of Beir Zeit University on the West Bank is attending, but no Israeli.

Last spring, the Institute invited Menachem Milson, a professor of Arab literature at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, to this seminar conducted by the Institute’s Middle East Center. Then, according to an Aspen official, the State Department in May informed Joseph Slater, the Institute’s president, that Milson was also an Israeli army colonel who served in 1977 as an aide to the Military Governor of the administered territories. The Aspen Institute then withdrew its invitation.

When Slater was asked why another Israeli was not invited he replied: “We are not the United Nations. We don’t feel the need for an Israeli quota.” However, Lord Caradon, well known for his anti-Israel, pro-Arab views, was in the seminar in which he presented what the Jewish Telegraphic Agency was told a “very negative view on Israel” regarding Jerusalem and “nobody was there to refute him.” Thus, the JTA was told, “only one point of view was presented.”

Two weeks ago, the Institute’s Board of Trustees adopted a resolution declaring the independence of its academic programs and sent a copy to John Fluor, chairman of the Fluor Corp. who also is chairman of the board of the East-West Foundation. “Nobody is going to dictate to Aspen who shall come and where we have our meetings,” Aspen Institute’s vice president Stephen Strickland told the JTA in a telephone conversation. He said no response to the resolution on independence has been received from Fluor.


However, Israel has been blocked out of the Institute’s Middle East Center although over the years the Institute has had a superb reputation of being impartial in its treatment of Arabs and Israelis. It has a center in Jerusalem and Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek is on its Board of Trustees. Israelis are invited to Aspen to participate in some programs this season but not to the Middle East seminar.

Fluor Corp., headquartered in Irvine, Calif., is a giant construction firm that builds electric plants and has, among other projects, constructed oil wells for ARAMCO, the giant oil consortium with huge interests in Saudi Arabia. The East-West Foundation, headquartered in Santa Barbara, Calif. is a non-profit, tax exempt group.

Christopher Beirn, president of the East-West Foundation, was reported by Aspen officials to have threatened earlier this month to terminate an annual grant of $600,000 to the Institute unless it withdrew its invitation to Israelis to attend the seminar on the Arab world. The Aspen officials also said Beirn had previously threatened to drop the grant unless Aspen relocated another series of seminars held each year in Jerusalem. The $600,000 grant represents about 80 percent of the Institute’s Middle East programming.

Whether the seminars in Jerusalem are affected by the East-West Foundations position has not yet been ascertained. According to an Aspen official, Beirn “never said flatly” but “suggested that unless we play this the Foundation’s way” he thought the Saudis “would be very upset.” Aspen sources also said that Beirn called Kollek to insist that Aspen should not accept Israeli participants in seminars funded through the East-West. Foundation.

The net result is that Israel was not asked to send anybody to the seminar and “there’s tremendous ill feeling now toward this Foundation among many of the Aspen trustees,” JTA was informed.


The American Jewish Committee has been involved in this matter since last August. Neil Sandberg, the Western Regional Director for the AJ Committee based in Los Angeles, told the JTA that “the some people” of the East-West Foundation in the Aspen matter were “principal players” in the drive to establish a Middle East Center at the University of Southern California (USC). Fluor is chairman of the Board of Trustees of USC.

The year-long controversy at USC involved a proposed agreement between USC and the Middle East Center Foundation, a non-profit organization established by Fluor, which would have given the Foundation control of all USC’s academic programs at the Center to individuals outside the university’s faculty. This included hiring the Center’s faculty, admission of students and determination of curriculum. The Middle East Foundation was to have provided an initial $7 million and corporation executives doing business with Saudi Arabia were to have been urged to make further generous gifts, according to Sandberg.

According to the AJ Committee, the heart of the controversy over the Middle East Center was whether an Arab government, namely. Saudi Arabia, and a group of American corporations doing billions of dollars worth of business with Saudi Arabia should be permitted to control a center of research and education in a leading U.S. university.

The AJ Committee opposed this, Sandberg noted, since “the Saudis were calling the shots on academic programs in the United States which is highly inappropriate.” The USC faculty and the USC President’s Advisory Council supported the AJ Committee’s view and last August the executive committee of the USC Board of Trustees rejected the agreement and set up a committee to rewrite it so that academic control would remain in the hands of the university.

Last month, the USC Board of Directors voted to rescind the university’s contract for the Middle East Center and to return to ###operate donors about $1 million that was given to establish and finance the Center. “The same principle is involved in the Aspen situation,” Sandberg stressed. “Academic freedom and academic integrity are involved.”

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