Richard L. Cravatts, Ph.D., a Freedom Center Journalism Fellow in Academic Free Speech and President Emeritus of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, is the author of Dispatches From the Campus War Against Israel and Jews.
While the pandemic greatly disrupted campus activities in 2020, the student governments of at least three universities managed to focus their efforts to pass BDS resolutions, bills that asked their respective universities to divest from holdings of companies doing business with Israel.
At the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign, that school’s resolution “called on the university to divest from Northrop Grumman, Raytheon Company, Lockheed Martin, Caterpillar Inc. and Elbit Systems Ltd. for what the resolution alleges is partaking in human-rights violations in the Palestinian territories. . . .” Additionally, in a twist that forced Jewish students to choose between supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and condemning Israel, the resolution included concessions for the minority community and a nod to BLM, and “also called for the university to divest from its own police department . . . and for the university to divest from companies involved in the prison system, U.S. immigration enforcement and fossil fuels.”
A successful BDS resolution vote at Columbia University similarly demanded that the school “divest its stocks, funds, and endowment from companies that profit from or engage in the State of Israel’s acts toward Palestinians that, according to Columbia University Apartheid Divest (CUAD), fall under the United Nations International Convention of the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid.”
And, most recently, in November at San Francisco State University (SFSU), a perennial hotbed of anti-Israel agitation, a resolution promoted by the radical group General Union of Palestine Students was passed and called on the University to divest from a list of some 100 companies “that benefit from Israeli Occupation, racism, and colonialism” in Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria. “[T]hese investments harm San Francisco State’s Palestinian, Arab, Muslim students,” the resolution read, “many of whom have families who currently live under Israeli occupation, or are descendants of Palestinians who have been killed or forcibly relocated as a result of Israel’s occupation of Palestine.”
SFSU President Lynn Mahoney was quick to announce that the school, while recognizing the good intentions with which the resolution was created, could not ultimately honor the goals of the resolution. “I . . . fundamentally disagree with the premise that a single geopolitical issue can serve as a proxy against which to measure an institution’s commitment to human rights,” she wrote in a letter to the Associated Students Board of Directors explaining her decision, and “I regret that the resolution flattens an incredibly complex historical and current geopolitical issue into misleading binaries.” In rejecting the call for divestment, Mahoney followed what is a familiar pattern where radical student groups push a resolution through student governments, there is extensive and sometimes furious debate about the virtues of the bill, and the resolution is either passed or voted down. And when passed, as in the case of SFSU, the university’s administration, in almost all cases, refuses to accede to requests for divestment or boycotts—regardless of how successful the student vote.
So the question, then, is: why do campus radicals repeatedly promote these resolutions, knowing that it is likely that, even when successful, the votes will not lead to actual divestment?
The answer is that BDS resolutions serve a dark purpose regardless of whether or not they are successfully voted on and acted on by the respective universities. By repeating the campaign’s calumnies, libels, and historical distortions against Israel, it is thought, a universal loathing of the state will gradually evolve, an objective clearly stated by the divestment effort’s proponents. Whether or not actual divestment takes place is of secondary concern; the repeated, unrelenting, often vitriolic condemnation of Israel and Zionism is the principal goal.
As it happens, there is a common denominator of BDS activities on campus, along with the resultant discomfort felt by Jewish students as a result of unrelenting anti-Israel, anti-Zionist, and sometimes anti-Semitic activism endemic to the BDS campaign and its facilitators: the presence on campus of anti-Israel professors and the some of the departments in which they teach and direct programs. In fact, reports by the AMCHA Initiative, a group that monitors more than 400 college campuses across the U.S. for anti-Semitic activity, have revealed that the presence of activist anti-Israel professors on a campus is directly linked to BDS activity and “that schools with faculty who support an academic boycott of Israel are five times more likely to have acts of anti-Jewish aggression, including assault, harassment and vandalism.”
AMCHA research also revealed that “Schools with instances of student-produced anti-Zionist expression, including BDS promotion, are 7 times more likely to have incidents that targeted Jewish students for harm than schools with no evidence of students’ anti-Zionist expression and the more such anti-Zionist expression, the higher the likelihood of incidents involving anti-Jewish hostility,” meaning that BDS activism—by both students and faculty—spreads outward on a campus, tainting the overall environment for Jewish students who may or may not even be directly involved in the Israeli/Palestinian debate.
Research in a particular 2017 AMCHA report, “The Impact of Academic Boycotters of Israel on U.S. Campuses,” points to the important influence faculty have in promoting a toxic campus climate and “strongly suggests that that at least some faculty who have signed petitions or statements in support of an academic boycott of Israel bring their anti-Israel sentiments and support for BDS to campus through their department’s sponsorship of pro-BDS events and those events increase the likelihood of resulting anti-Jewish hostility on campus.” When President Mahoney rejected the divestment call from the recent SFSU vote, AMCHA was one of the outside groups that applauded her for making that appropriate decision. However, AMCHA noted in a statement to SFSU after the vote, “ . . . it’s . . . important to recognize the role that faculty – like her own Rabab Abdulhadi, faculty advisor to the GUPS students who brought the BDS resolution forward–play in inciting such hateful rhetoric and the hateful behavior that inevitably results. To achieve what President Mahoney aims to achieve, it’s critical she also apply this standard to professors like Abdulhadi, who . . . regularly abuses her university position and resources to promote viciously anti-Israel propaganda and demonize and marginalize Jewish and pro-Israel students at SFSU, and has been doing so, with impunity, for more than a decade.”
Professor Rabab Abdulhadi, director of SFSU’s Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Studies (AMED) program, it will be remembered, is the virulent, Israel-hating professor who, among other slurs, referred to Zionists as white nationalists during a 2019 UCLA lecture, and was embroiled in controversy for a virtual speaking appearance, to have been held on September 23rd, by Leila Khaled, a terrorist in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, whose resume includes her role in the 1969 hijacking of an Israel-bound plane and her arrest the following year during a failed hijacking of an El Al flight.
In 2018, when outgoing SFSU President Leslie Wong apologized to Jewish students and faculty for his chronically disappointing record in addressing anti-Israel, anti-Semitic activism on his campus, he publicly proclaimed that, contrary to his past statements, Zionists were, in fact, welcome on the SFSU campus. That small step at “normalizing” Zionism was just too much for Abdulhadi, however, who harbors the poisonous view—shared by other Israel-haters and anti-Semites—that Zionism is a racist, political ideology; in fact, she audaciously “rejects the equation of Zionism with Judaism.” Wong’s apology, to her, was a capitulation to an ideology she wanted purged from campus. “I consider the statement . . . from President Wong, welcoming Zionists to campus, equating Jewishness with Zionism . . . to be a declaration of war against Arabs, Muslims, Palestinians and all those who are committed to an indivisible sense of justice on and off campus.”
One of the key findings of the AMCHA report was that a “majority of faculty boycotters are affiliated with Ethnic, Gender, or Middle East Studies departments: Faculty boycotters and faculty boycotter chairs and directors are disproportionately affiliated with Ethnic, Gender, and Middle East Studies,” just as Abdulhadi is. In fact, the report found, “Of nearly 1000 faculty boycotters in our study, 70% were affiliated with a department, program, center, or institute in the area of Ethnic, Gender, or Middle East Studies” and, tellingly, Ethnic Studies departments “with one or more faculty boycotters were 10 times more likely to sponsor events with BDS-supporting speakers than units with no faculty boycotters, and the more faculty boycotters the greater the likelihood of BDS-supporting speaker-events; Academic units with chairs or directors who support an academic boycott of Israel were 4.9 times more likely to sponsor events with BDS-supporting speakers than units headed by non-faculty boycotters.”
In 2019, when Abdulhadi continued to illegally use AMED’s web page, which included the SFSU logo, to attack her critics and the usual suspects from the “Israel Lobby,” AMCHA and 79 other organizations sent a letter to the California State University System’s Chancellor and General Counsel expressing their displeasure with the professor’s improper use of university resources as part of her personal as well as institutional vituperative anti-Israel activism. “[W]e remain deeply concerned that an image from AMED Director Abdulhadi stating ‘Zionism = Racism’ and ‘Boycott! Divest! Sanction!’, as well as the program’s re-posting of Abdulhadi’s statement declaring ‘welcoming Zionists to campus to be a declaration of war against Arabs, Muslims, [and] Palestinians,’ remain visible on AMED at SFSU’s Facebook page,” the letter read.
Additionally, according to the group’s letter, Abdulhadi seemed to be using the university’s web pages for personal gain, noting that there was “a recent AMED at SFSU posting that links readers to the website ‘SupportProfAbdulhadi.org’ and includes a request for readers to ‘Support and Donate to our legal fund: launchgood.com/supportRabab,’ which links to a webpage explaining that the money being solicited from readers is to be used to fight ‘the Israel Lobby’ and to pay for Prof. Abdulhadi’s lawsuits against SFSU.”
In 2017 and 2018, separate lawsuits against SFSU on behalf of Jewish students claimed that the university “has not merely fostered and embraced anti-Jewish hostility — it has systematically supported these departments and student groups as they have doggedly organized their efforts to target, threaten, and intimidate Jewish students on campus and deprive them of their civil rights and their ability to feel safe and secure as they pursue their education.” It is obvious now that the hostile climate created on the SFSU campus is not only the result of student activism on the part of General Union of Palestine Students, but also, and perhaps more significantly, by the teaching, writing, and participation in anti-Israel events, conferences, and other programs and initiatives by SFSU faculty—and specifically Abdulhadi and her ideological reign of terror against Israel, Zionism, and Jews.
Is there any doubt that professors like Abdulhadi, individuals consumed with blatant hatred for Israel, a contempt for those who call themselves Zionists, and a highly biased, historically inaccurate, and counter-factual narrative about the Middle East, take their ideology into classrooms? That they censure and contradict students who have opposing, pro-Israel views? Or that they are instrumental in influencing student activists and joining in their efforts to engage in BDS activities, demonize Israel and Zionism, and contribute to the hostile climate in which Jewish students, as the lawsuit read, are “often afraid to wear Stars of David or yarmulkes on campus, and regularly text their friends to describe potential safety issues?”
Obviously, the answer to these questions is, yes, the very reason that AMCHA’s letter warned that it was “important to emphasize that Professor Abdulhadi’s misuse of AMED’s Facebook page to denigrate Jewish and pro-Israel students does not occur in a vacuum . . . Since establishing AMED more than a decade ago, Abdulhadi has injected her personal animus towards the Jewish state into dozens of AMED-sponsored, virulently anti-Zionist events, speakers, and classes that have included rhetoric which demonizes and delegitimizes Israel and Zionists, condones terrorism, and calls for activism to harm and even eliminate the Jewish state.”
SFSU’s administration was seemingly responsive and, as a result of the lawsuits, promised “that SFSU will put in place important protections for Jewish and Zionist students to prevent continued discrimination.” That is a positive step forward. But as long as Abdulhadi and her ideological ilk continue to teach and chair departments, the university still harbors a radical, corrosive faculty member even while it strives to make its campus free of anti-Jewish bigotry.
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