Late last year, during the ongoing frenzy of violence directed at Israelis known as the “stabbing intifada,” 20-year-old Maram Hassoneh was killed in her second attempted knife attack on IDF soldiers manning a checkpoint. Hassoneh, a devout Muslim, was a top English student at An-Najah University in the West Bank city of Nablus. Described by Hamas as “greenhouse for martyrs,” An-Najah may very well be San Francisco State University (SFSU)’s first academic partner in the Arab and Muslim world.
Under the leadership of Rabab Abdulhadi, director of SFSU’s Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Initiative (AMED) and a founding member of the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, SFSU reportedly established a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with An-Najah in 2014. Though there is no official corroboration of the relationship other than a recommendation in the All-University Committee on International Programs annual report (which Abdulhadi touted on Facebook), An-Najah claimed in a statement at its website last year that the MOU was signed on September 10, 2014, while a 2015 Xpress Magazine interview with Abdulhadi presented it as a fait accompli.
At a November, 2015 AMED panel discussion on “Palestine, Iran, and Syria” for which Campus Watch obtained a recording, Abdulhadi—in introducing notorious Israel-bashers Hatem Bazian of UC Berkeley and As’ad Abu Khalil of Cal State Stanislaus—spoke proudly of the partnership:
We . . . have the first agreement between San Francisco State and any Arab or Muslim communities . . . a memorandum of understanding with An-Najah University in Nablus, Palestine.
She reiterated her longstanding intention to do the same with another West Bank university, the Hamas-dominated Bir Zeit, and to set up a student exchange program, before delivering this telling disclaimer:
We believe that we need to produce knowledge for justice. We do not want to produce knowledge and teach students how to grow up and build bombs and destroy other people.
Given the prevalence of Hamas and, to a lesser extent, Fatah, at both universities, the expressions of hatred towards Israelis and Jews that appear with depressing regularity, and the widespread glorification of terrorism, it’s little wonder Abdulhadi felt compelled to issue this qualification.
According to Matthew Levitt, director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, An-Najah is known for “terrorist recruitment, indoctrination and radicalization of students,” particularly those associated with the Hamas-affiliated Islamic Bloc. Likewise, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) notes that An-Najah’s student council “glorifies suicide bombings and propagandizes for jihad against Israel.” An-Najah put off its 2015 student elections indefinitely for fear of a Hamas victory.
An-Najah’s June 2014 graduation ceremony featured banners paying tribute to Hamas leaders and graduates posing for a picture, holding up three fingers to represent three Israeli teens kidnapped by Hamas, the terrorist act that ignited the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict. An-Najah students are notorious for having constructed a gruesome replica of the 2001 Sbarro pizzeria Jerusalem suicide bombing.
While Abdulhadi’s allusion to steering these radical students away from violence and towards democratic activism may be admirable, the fact remains that a student exchange program with this university could pose a significant security risk. And Abdulhadi doesn’t plan to stop there. In a 2014 interview, she pledged to further such collaboration:
[I]t’s not going to be exclusive to two Palestinian universities; we plan to connect with other universities in Palestine and elsewhere in the Arab world as well as in Muslim majority countries.
When asked by email to confirm the MOU with An-Najah and to comment on potential security concerns, SFSU President Leslie Wong did not respond. Indeed, SFSU has remained remarkably quiet on the subject, other than defending Abdulhadi from allegations of improper use of university funds with a controversial 2014 “Academic and Labor Delegation to Palestine” for the purpose of meeting with An-Najah and Bir Zeit representatives to cultivate the MOU (and, in the process, individuals affiliated with U.S. State Department-designated terrorist organizations).
If, as Abdulhadi boasts, the alliance with An-Najah is such an impressive accomplishment, what accounts for SFSU’s reticence? Could it be that President Wong is less than eager to publicize SFSU’s relationship with a Palestinian university that is a hotbed of radicalization, particularly given SFSU’s own troubled history of anti-Israel extremism? In a matter of this gravity, silence from SFSU’s administration is not an option.