US university appoints first ‘Mahmoud Darwish chair in Palestinian Studies’


Brown University, one of the top American universities, named Professor Beshara Doumani the first holder of the ‘milestone’ chair

Brown University has become the first in North America to appoint a faculty chair in Palestinian Studies.

The university, among America’s high-ranking Ivy League schools and located in Rhode Island, announced this week that it was establishing the “Mahmoud Darwish chair” in Palestinian studies after the late, famed poet.

“Named after Mahmoud Darwish, a towering and beloved figure of Palestinian and Arab literature and humanistic values, this chair is the first of its kind at a major research university,” the announcement read.

Even after his passing in 2008, Mr Darwish is regarded as a national poet for Palestinians and a symbol for his people’s struggle to fight displacement and the Israeli occupation. He authored more than 30 volumes of poetry and eight books of prose.

Professor Beshara Doumani is the first holder of the Mahmoud Darwish Chair at Brown and will start his tenure in July. He is a well-known academic in the field of Middle East studies.

“By joining together the names Mahmoud Darwish and Beshara Doumani, the appointment embraces the vitality of Palestinian life as a driving concern in academic, cultural, and political affairs at the global level,” the university said.

Elias Muhanna, a professor at Brown, told The National that the creation of the Mahmoud Darwish chair and appointment of Mr Doumani was a real marker.

“This is the first faculty chair in Palestinian studies at a North American university, which represents a major milestone,” Mr Muhanna said.

“Over the last several decades, Palestinian studies has faced the kind of pressure that other fields rarely encounter,” he added, arguing that this brings “long-overdue institutional recognition.”

Palestinian voices have faced an uphill battle in seeking representation in the US. In 2012, former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich called the Palestinians “an invented people.”

“I think that we’ve had an invented Palestinian people who are in fact Arabs and who were historically part of the Arab community,” Mr Gingrich told The Jewish Channel.

The struggle for Palestinian academic recognition has gone hand in hand with the broader political battle.

In 2018, the Trump administration closed the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) office in Washington and is now signalling a conditional acceptance of Israeli annexation of occupied Palestinian areas in the Jordan Valley and the West Bank in July.