Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian political leader and human rights activist, will give the inaugural lecture for UCSB’s Center for Middle East Studies (CMES) on Sunday at 2 p.m. in Campbell Hall.

“Hanan Ashrawi is probably one of the most well-known political leaders for the peace process in the Middle East,” CMES Assistant Director Garay Menicucci said. “She’s a feminist, human rights activist, and an academic. We thought that someone who was a human rights activist who dealt with broader questions of democratization of the Arab world was one of the best choices to inaugurate our center.”

Ashrawi’s many accomplishments and wide influence make her more than a good choice to deliver the inaugural lecture said Dwight Reynolds, CMES director and chair of Islamic and Near Eastern Studies. “Many people speak of Ashrawi as a potential president of Palestine,” he said.

Not all UCSB members agree with many of Ashrawi’s beliefs.

“Frankly, I’m disappointed that the center has chosen her for their opening ceremony; she often lies and distorts specifics in her speaking,” GauchoPAC Chair Jarad Bernstein said. “She wrongly accuses Israel of being responsible for the violence in the Middle East right now.”

Although he disagrees with Ashrawi’s specific message, Bernstein said Americans – not just Jews, Muslims, and other involved groups – should be concerned about the Middle East.

UCSB Rabbi Stephen Cohen also said he sees problems with Ashrawi’s speech.

“Of course she is an articulate and prominent personality in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict … however, this is the center’s inaugural lecture,” he said. “The implicit message in choosing this topic, and this speaker, is that the center has a position regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and is using this occasion to announce its position. I hope this is not the case, but I know that this is how it feels to many members of our Jewish community.”

The CMES opened on August 15, 2000 and is the 12th Middle East studies research center in the U.S. The CMES tries to promote the study of the cultures, religions and histories of the people of the region, Menicucci said.

“The CMES supports curriculum development, research and outreach about the Middle East on the UCSB campus and in the larger community,” Reynolds said.

This quarter, the CMES has engaged in outreach to K-12 schools in the area, sponsored cultural programs and Middle Eastern music concerts, and brought Leah Rabin, widow of the late Prime Minister of Israel, to lecture. The UCSB Middle East music ensemble, with its 65 members, is larger than any other in the U.S., Menicucci said. The CMES also administers scholarships to UCSB students and supports Middle East classes taught by CMES-affiliated professors.

The CMES is placing much emphasis on the Middle East conflict, Reynolds said.

“Although we strive to educate people about all aspects of the region, the Arab/Israeli crisis is the single best-known event right now,” he said.

Unlike other national Middle East research centers, such as those at UCLA and UC Berkeley, the UCSB CMES places an academic emphasis on comparative studies of the Middle East and South Asia.

“The task of promoting research and disseminating information about a region as fraught with disagreements as the Middle East is always a controversial one. … But as an academic institution, the CMES, and the University of California as a whole, are dedicated to promoting a space for free and uncensored presentations of a broad spectrum of views,” Reynolds said.

Ashwari was chosen to inaugurate the CMES because she has been an outspoken advocate of human rights, and directed criticism both at Palestinian leadership and Israeli military occupation for their abuses of basic human rights, Reynolds said.

“To be willing to stand in the middle [as Ashrawi does] is the most dangerous, radical position to take,” Reynolds said. “She dares to be a moderate [and] has constantly and consistently advocated dialogue even in times when most people argued that dialogue was not possible.”

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for students to see someone who is such an influential newsmaker like her,” Menicucci said. “I can’t think of anyone that Arts and Lectures has brought this year who has been a more distinguished speaker than Hanan Ashrawi.”

The lecture costs $5 for students and tickets may be purchased at the Arts and Lectures box office or by phone at 893-3535.