Brandeis University’s “objective” center for Middle East Studies undermined by Israeli and US military connections

Website of the Crown Center for Middle East Studies.

The Crown family

In its 1980 edition, Everybody’s Business: An Almanac (by Milton Moskowitz, Michael Katz and Robert Levering) made the following reference to the Crown family of Chicago’s history of making money from General Dynamics’ weapons manufacturing activity:

Henry Crown

“General Dynamics, more than any other aerospace company, is dependent on the Pentagon; government defense contracts account for two-thirds of their sales… The power behind the scenes is Henry Crown, a Chicago financier and one of the richest, but least known, men in the country. A group headed by Crown, who was 83 in 1980, owns about 20% of the company. His associates, who sit on the General Dynamics board with him, are his son, Lester Crown, and Chicago industrialist Nathan Cummings, founder of Consolidated Foods… “

After Henry Crown’s death, General Dynamics sold its F-16 fighter jet production unit and the Crown family reduced its ownership stake in General Dynamics from 20% to 8%. But, according to the General Dynamics web site at www.generaldynamics.com, today “General Dynamics Combat Systems is becoming the world’s preferred supplier of land and amphibious combat systems development, production and support;” and “its product line includes a full spectrum of armored vehicles, light wheeled reconnaissance vehicles, suspensions, engine transmissions, guns and ammunition handling systems, turret drive systems, and reactive armor and ordnance.”

The US military connection

James Crown

The General Dynamics web site also indicates that members of the Crown family like Henry Crown & Company President James Crown and Henry Crown & Company Chairman Lester Crown still sit on the General Dynamics corporate board—between retired Pentagon officials (like former U.S. Under-Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Technology Paul Kaminski, former U.S. Navy Chief of Naval Operations Jay Johnson, former U.S. Army Chief of Staff John Keane, Retired U.S. General George Joulwan, and former U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Lester Lyles) and a former Royal Navy Vice-Admiral for the UK Ministry of Defense named Robert Walmsley.

A 2003 press release of the General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems business unit in St. Petersburg, Florida also noted that it had formed “a strategic alliance with Aeronautics Defense Systems, Ltd.,” an Israeli firm based in Yavne. Aeronautics Defense Systems Ltd. is the firm that developed the Unmanned Multi-Application System (UMASa) aerial surveillance tool which the Israeli military uses to “provide a real-time ‘bird’s eye view’ of the surveillance area to combatant commanders and airborne command posts.” According to Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the agreement between General Dynamics and Aeronautics Defense Systems to bring together “both companies’ state-of-the art technologies in defense and homeland security” was “additional proof of the technological and commercial benefits that alliances between industries from the U.S. and Israel can produce.”

From its investments in Pentagon war contractors like General Dynamics and U.S. real estate, the Crown family has accumulated a family fortune of $3.6 billion, according to a recent Forbes magazine estimate. A portion of the Crown family’s surplus wealth was apparently recently shifted to Brandeis University in Massachusetts in order to establish the “Crown Center for Middle East Studies.”

Lester Crown with Shimon Peres

According to the February 27, 2005 issue of the Jerusalem Post, “the center’s major funder, the Crown family of Chicago, is well-known for its support of sectarian Jewish causes, including the Ida Crown Jewish Academy, an orthodox day school in Chicago.” In addition to being a member of the General Dynamics corporate board, for instance, Lester Crown is a member of the board of The Jerusalem Foundation Inc. and a a member of Tel Aviv University’s Board of Governors. Lester Crown has also been actively involved with the American Jewish Committee and is a member of the advisory board of Medis Technologies, a joint venture business partner of Israel Aircraft Industries Ltd.

Shai Feldman

Shai Feldman

Directed by a member of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies Council and a recent head of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies (JCSS) at Tel Aviv University named Shai Feldman (no relation to this writer), the Crown Center for Middle East Studies at Brandeis University apparently won’t have to operate on a shoestring budget. According to the March 27, 2005 issue of the Boston Globe, the Crown Center for Middle East Studies already has an endowment of $25 million.

“The center will seek to produce a discourse on the Middle East as dispassionate, objective and centrist as possible,” Feldman told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in a recent interview (“In maelstrom of Mideast studies, Brandeis opens non-partisan center”, Richard Asinof, JTA, 28 March 2005).

This seems unlikely. The Globe also noted that one of the endowed chairs of the Crown Center for Middle East Studies is being filled by Kanan Makiya, an Iraqi dissident coordinating the U.S. State Department’s Future of Iraq initiative “who supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq” in 2003.

As the following excerpt from a press release that was posted on the Brandeis University web site at www.brandeis.edu indicates, the Crown Center for Middle East Studies will be holding its inaugural conference on April 4-5, 2005:

“Leading experts from Israel, the Arab world and the United States will gather on April 4-5 for the inaugural conference for the new Crown Center for Middle East Studies at Brandeis University…

The conference, which will be held at the Hassenfeld Conference Center… Speakers will include Kanan Makiya, longtime leader of the Iraqi opposition to Saddam Hussein and the Sylvia K. Hassenfeld Professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at Brandeis; Khalil Shikaki, director of the Palestine Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah; Sari Nusseibeh, president of Al-Quds University in Jerusalem; Abdel Monem Said Aly, director of the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo; Martin Kramer, a researcher at the Moshe Dayan Center in Tel Aviv and endorser of the McCarthyite Campus Watch, and Geoffrey Kemp, director of regional strategic programs at the Nixon Center in Washington, D.C.

‘Having so many viewpoints at the conference will allow us to examine issues from different perspectives,’ said conference organizer Shai Feldman, the director of the Crown Center and former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University. The conference gets underway at 4 p.m. Monday, April 4 with a session entitled “Middle East Studies in the U.S.: What is the Debate About?” The conference will continue the next day with four sessions: 9-10:30 a.m., “Futures for Iraq, Iran and Syria;” 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m., “Political Transformation in the Region?;” 1:30-3 p.m., “Israel’s Disengagement Plan: The Internal Debate” and 3:30-5:30 p.m., “Palestinian-Israeli Relations: The Next Steps.”… For conference information, contact Crown Center associate director Kristina Cherniahivsky (781-736-5322 or Kristina@brandeis.edu).”

The Israeli military connection

Besides not fully disclosing the Crown family’s financial relationship to weapons manufacturers (like General Dynamics and Aeronautics Defense Systems Ltd), the Crown Center press release also doesn’t fully disclose the degree to which Crown Center Director Feldman’s former employer, the JCSS at Tel Aviv University, apparently employs former Israeli military officials as staff members. Feldman’s successor as head of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies (JCSS), for instance, is former Israeli General Zvi Shtauber, who headed the Strategic Planning Division of the Israel Defense Foces, according to the JCSS’s web site at www.tau.ac.il/jcss.

Following his retirement from the IDF, Shtauber became the foreign policy advisor of Israeli Labor Party Prime Minister Barak, before becoming the Israeli government’s ambassador to the UK between 2001 and mid-2004. Other staff member at the strategic studies center which Crown Center Director Feldman headed until recently, apparently include: former Israeli General and Deputy to the National Security Advisor Shlomo Brom; former Israeil General Uzi Eilam; former Israeli General and Deputy Director of Military Intelligence Meir Elran; former IDF Intelligence Branch employee Shmuel Even; and Major General, former Coordinator of Israeli Government Operations in the Administered Territories and former IDF Intelligence Head Shlomo Gazit. The deputy head of the JCSS, Ephraim Kam, “served as a Colonel in the Research Division of IDF Military Intelligence until 1993,” according to the JCSS web site.

Founded in 1977, the JCSS was organized and headed by former Israeli Major General and Director of Military Intelligence Aharon Yariv, until shortly before his death in 1994. According to its web site, “funds for the Center’s creation were provided mainly by members of the Jewish communities of the United States,” “the Center is governed by an international and an Israeli Board of Trustees,” and “the JCSS budget is based largely on the annual interest that accrues from an endowment fund established by the Association of American Friends of Tel Aviv University from contributions made primarily by the Jewish community of the United States.”

Jehuda Reinharz

Coincidentally, Brandeis University’s president, U.S. Council on Foreign Relations member Jehuda Reinharz, “serves on a large number of boards and committees, including the United Israel Appeal/Jewish Agency,” and “is married to Shulamit Reinharz, professor of sociology and director of Women’s Studies and the Hadassah International Research Institute on Jewish Women at Brandeis University,” according to Brandeis University’s web site.

In 2003, General Dynamics’ annual revenues exceeded $16 billion. That same year, Brandeis University’s annual revenues exceeded $259 million and Brandeis University’s assets were valued at $724 million. So there’s still not much financial incentive for either General Dynamics or Brandeis University to take any position which recognizes that the Israeli government must end its occupation of all the territory it illegally occupies.

Bob Feldman is an anti-war Movement writer and activist who contributed “Inspecting Nuclear Israel” and “The Occupation of Haiti: Recalling 1915-1934” to Counterpunch magazine. He is an occasional contributor to EI.