Target Israel

California’s Middle East Studies professors hop on the the punish-Israel bandwagon.

In recent months, two University of California campuses, Berkeley and San Diego, have been embroiled in fierce debates following the introduction of anti-Israel divestiture resolutions by their respective student senates. Both were defeated, but not before a number of California’s Middle East studies academics signed a petition supporting divestment.

The petition is posted at the website for the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, which is dedicated to the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement. The list of names reads like a Who’s Who of California’s anti-Israel academics:

  • Joel Beinin: Stanford University history professor and well-known anti-Zionist. As a regular guest on the Peninsula Peace and Justice Center (PPJC) Palo Alto cable television program “Other Voices,” Beinin is notorious for railing against Israel. During an appearance on April 6, 2010, he described Israeli building policies in Jerusalem as “segregationist” and claimed that “visceral hatred” and “open bloodthirstiness” were “common” in Israeli society. He was one of only a handful of Middle East studies professors to take part in the odious “Israeli Apartheid Week” in March, 2009 with a speech at UC Berkeley.
  • Hatem Bazian: senior lecturer in the department of Near Eastern studies at UC Berkeley, visiting scholar at the Zaytuna Institute/College in Berkeley (the self-proclaimed “first Islamic college” in the U.S.), and committed anti-Israel activist. In March of this year, he was one of the speakers at UC Irvine’s “Israeli Apartheid Week,” which was co-sponsored by the radical Muslim Student Union (MSU) and the problematic Middle East Studies Student Initiative (MESSI). Bazian is perhaps best known for calling for “an intifada in this country!” at a 2004 anti-war rally in San Francisco.
  • Mark LeVine: UC Irvine history professor and abject apologist for terrorist groups such as Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood (a spokesman from the latter spoke to his class in October, 2008). LeVine is a defender of the extremist behavior of UC Irvine’s Muslim Student Union, including their shouting down of Israeli ambassador Michael Oren in February, 2010—something he described as a “teachable moment.”  In a recent Al-Jazeera op-ed, LeVine portrayed the Turkish terrorist supporters who were killed on one of the Gaza Flotilla ships as “martyrs,” “heroes,” and—in a warped nod to Memorial Day—“warriors every bit as deserving of our tears and support as the soldiers of American wars past and present.”
  • Beshara Doumani: UC Berkeley associate professor of history. He has described Hamas as “a deeply rooted political organization with social and cultural and other dimensions” that—all evidence to the contrary—“has come forward many, many times to negotiate a truce with Israel.” Doumani was one of the signatories (along with Joel Beinin) to a ludicrous 2002 open letter suggesting that Israel would use the war in Iraq to engage in “ethnic cleansing” against Palestinians—a charge that never materialized and for which no apologies nor retractions were ever issued.
  • Hamid Algar: UC Berkeley Islamic studies professor, Khomeini acolyte, Armenian genocide denier, and defender of Palestinian suicide bombers, of which he said in a June, 2003 California Monthly interview, “such actions are closer to the case of a soldier who, in battle against overwhelming odds and in the certain knowledge that he will not emerge alive from the encounter, rushes upon the enemy.”
  • Saree Makdisi: UCLA English professor who carries on the political legacy of his uncle, the late Columbia University professor and Orientalism author Edward Said. Makdisi has leveled blood libels against Israel, including—at an infamous January, 2009 UCLA Center for Near Eastern Studies symposium—claiming that “the goal of Israel is to deliberately starve children.” Makdisi has a long history of supporting the BDS movement and has endorsed the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.
  • Minoo Moallem: UC Berkeley professor of gender and women’s studies. She was a signatory to a January, 2009 open letter to President Obama calling for an end to U.S. support for Israel based on its, “war crimes and in its acts of terror…its racist civil constitution and illegal occupations.” Along with a number of Middle East studies academics, Moallem signed an open letter to the International Society for Iranian Studies objecting to the inclusion of a faculty member from Israel’s Ariel University in the 2010 Iranian Studies Biennial Conference in Santa Monica.
  • Suad Joseph: UC Davis professor of anthropology and women’s studies and president-elect of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), the principal professional organization for scholars of the region and a frequent purveyor of anti-Israel “scholarship.” Joseph has signed a number of open letters either demonizing Israel or supporting boycotts, including the aforementioned letters regarding Israel and the war in Iraq and the exclusion of an Israeli academic from the Iranian Studies Biennial Conference, as well as an open letter challenging Israeli academics opposed to international boycott efforts. As president-elect of MESA, Joseph’s politicized perspective does not bode well for the future of the field.
  • Other California Middle East studies academics who signed the petition supporting divestiture include Margaret Larkin, a professor of Arabic literature at UC Berkeley, and Omnia El Shakry, a history professor at UC Davis. El Shakry signed a March, 2008 “Statement of Solidarity with Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim Women Facing War and Occupation” opposing Israel’s incursion into Gaza following Hamas’s rocket barrage.

By way of comparison—at least as far as one California university goes—not one UC Irvine Middle East studies academic signed the May, 2010 faculty letter objecting to the atmosphere of “hatred against Jews and Israelis on campus” created by the MSU.

California academics have, however, played a leading role in the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. According to a February, 2009 Daily Bruin article on the Campaign for the Cultural and Academic Boycott of Israel, “eleven of the 15 organizing committee members represent California universities, and four of them are from the University of California.” Moreover, two of the founding members of the organizing committee teach Middle East studies at California institutions:

  • Rabab Abdulhadi: San Francisco State University (SFSU) associate professor of ethnic studies and race and resistance studies, and a senior scholar in the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Initiative. Abdulhadi teaches SFSU’s first course focusing solely on the Palestinian people, an emphasis she justifies by claiming that, “Palestine is at the heart of the Arab world.” Adhulhadi spoke at an Al-Awda (Palestine Right to Return Coalition) conference at SFSU in August, 2006 and at York University in March, 2010 for Toronto’s “Israeli Apartheid Week.” She was one of the panelists at an event at SFSU timed to coincide with the second anniversary of SFSU’s Edward Said mural in November, 2009 and dedicated to the BDS movement. Omar Barghouti, founder of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel—the inspiration for the U.S. version—gave the keynote address.
  • Sondra Hale: UCLA anthropology and women’s studies professor, and chair of the Faculty Advisory Committee for the notoriously anti-Israel Center for Near Eastern Studies (CNES). At a CNES conference in October, 2009, Hale equated the pro-Israel groups StandWithUs and the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) with “Nazis” and “McCarthyists.” In response to widespread criticism regarding the blatantly anti-Israel and, at times, anti-Semitic nature of a January, 2009 “Human Rights and Gaza” CNES symposium, Hale penned an op-ed in UCLA’s student newspaper, the Daily Bruin, slamming UCLA student and Bruins for Israel member Ben Meiselman for having the temerity to publish a piece criticizing the symposium. Hale proudly touted her prominent involvement in the Campaign for the Cultural and Academic Boycott of Israel at the time of its inception, telling the Daily Bruin in February, 2009 that, were it to go into effect, “foreign exchange and cooperative programs with Israel would cease.”

What is it about California that has inspired so many of its academics to join the BDS movement?  Rank anti-Semitism on the left—masquerading as anti-Zionism—is hardly limited to California, but certain circumstances (beyond the sheer size of the system) have made the state’s schools ripe for this malady:

  • With a frontier reputation as the “Left Coast,” California ability to lure “cutting-edge” academics has attracted politically likeminded academics from around the world.
  • California’s long-running—and now former—prosperity brought huge numbers of immigrants from all over the world, so that when anti-Israel feelings and agitation became chic among left-wing student radicals over the past decade, there were sufficient numbers of both Muslim students and fellow travelers around to carry out large-scale demonstrations and create an extremely hostile atmosphere.
  • A succession of leftist Democratic politicians has appointed like-minded administrators and trustees to the state universities who are loathe to cross swords with the faculty or student groups.  We’re now seeing second generation university administrators who are either sympathetic to radical student demands or, as products of the radicalized university themselves, lack the will to stand up to fashionable academic politics.

So it is that California has become the epicenter for the BDS movement, a legacy of which there is nothing to be proud.

Cinnamon Stillwell is the West Coast Representative for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum. She can be reached at [email protected].