When the California Faculty Association (CFA) adopted a resolution in 2009 condemning Israel for its military incursion into Gaza, it reinforced the fear that academic unions would be the next front in an ongoing propaganda offensive against the Jewish State. Amidst the ensuing controversy, one of the key players in the resolution’s formation—Manzar Foroohar, an Iranian immigrant and history professor specializing in the modern Middle East and Latin America at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo—came to the fore. However, the extent of her involvement was never publicly acknowledged. In fact, Foroohar authored and championed the resolution, which was presented by the CFA Peace & Justice Committee (Committee), unanimously adopted by the CFA Board of Directors on February 7, 2009, and passed by the CFA General Assembly in Sacramento on April 4-5 that same year.
Blandly titled, “CFA Call for a Halt to Violence Against All Civilians in Palestine and Israel,” the resolution was, in fact, blatantly anti-Israel. According to University of California, Los Angeles, professor emeritus Leila Beckwith writing at American Thinker in January, 2010:
The resolution states seven propositions that form the basis for the actions recommended. The propositions include affirming a moral equivalence between Israel defending its citizens from missile attacks and Hamas firing missiles against Israeli civilians, a misstatement of the conditions in Gaza, an omission of the U.N. Security Council’s condemnation of acts of terrorism, and a false charge against the U.S. of not seeking a just peace agreement.
Why would an academic union that acts as an exclusive bargaining representative within CSU and is devoted to improving working conditions for its members pass a resolution regarding international affairs? It turns out CFA president and California State University, Los Angeles, history professor Lillian Taiz—according to interviews with CFA members, and as the list of Committee resolutions makes clear—appointed the members of a statewide Committee in 2008 for this very purpose. With the exception of Foroohar, none of the unelected committee members have any expertise in Middle East studies, which might explain why their names were not listed on the resolution, nor was it prominently displayed on the CFA website in 2009. But during a phone interview, Stanley Oden, a professor in the department of government at Sacramento State University and a current member of the Committee, acknowledged that Foroohar was behind the 2009 resolution. Additionally, even though the names of Committee members no longer appear at the CFA website, a screen capture from 2008 demonstrates that both Foroohar and Oden were on the committee not long before the resolution was passed.
The resolution was slipped quietly in front of CFA members—for whom monthly dues are mandatory— for endorsement; afterward, several of them, when contacted by this author, said they felt duped. Decrying “violence against civilians—whether in Palestine or Israel” in the “interest of peace and greater humanity in the region,” the wording of the resolution led CFA members to believe that by signing it they would simply be supporting innocent victims. They were also unaware of the level of anti-Israel activism engaged in by Foroohar and others on the Committee.
A cursory review of Foroohar’s academic work at Cal Poly reveals that she donates a good deal of her time both inside and outside the classroom to demonizing Israel, particularly by promoting boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS). Indeed, Foroohar, along with a number of Middle East studies academics teaching in California, is on the organizing committee for the U.S. Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel, a group that works internationally to promote BDS.
The bibliographies and hand-outs (click here, here, and here for examples) for Foroohar’s Middle East history courses reveal a biased professor trying to convince her students to blame Israel for the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict and to reject Zionism. Student comments at PolyRatings.com demonstrate as much, with one of them flatly stating that, “This professor has an agenda. Her classes are nothing but propaganda to support her cause.” Fittingly, she supports her “research” with pseudo-scholarship that reiterates standard anti-Israel propaganda, including selections from Stephen Walt and John Mearshimer’s notoriously shoddy book The Israel Lobby.
Foroohar is known for inviting virulently anti-Israel speakers to Cal Poly. In January 2003, a lecture series offered in conjunction with one of her courses included Israeli “peace activist” Susy Mordechay speaking about “The Assault on Palestinian Civilian Life, 2000-2002”; University of Southern California linguistics professor Hagit Borer on “Zionism: Myth and Reality”; and Jeff Halper, anthropology professor emeritus at Ben Gurion University in Israel and director of the one-man NGO, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, on “The Key to an Israeli-Palestinian Peace: Dismantling Israel’s Matrix of Control.” In November 2004, Foroohar moderated a presentation featuring Ilan Pappe, an Israeli expatriate and “New Historian” who is one of Israel’s harshest critics and now teaches in the UK. Among other attempts to rewrite history in order to tarnish Israel’s image, Pappe was involved in the scholarly fabrication of a nonexistent massacre of Arabs in the village of Tantura in 1948.
Along the same lines, Foroohar gave lectures at California State University, Sacramento, in February 2009 titled, “Occupation of Palestine: The Obstacle to Peace” and “Zionism and Peace: Compatible or Contradictory Ideas?” In March 2009, she took part in a panel discussion at the University of Southern California titled, “From la Frontera to Gaza: Chicano-Palestinian Connections.” She presented a slide show and discussion at California State University, Fresno, in October 2002, on “Occupation and Resistance.” In May 2005, Foroohar moderated a discussion session at Cal Poly following a Muslim Student Association co-sponsored screening of several anti-Israel “documentaries,” including Peace, Propaganda & the Promised Land.
In the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist atrocities, Foroohar blamed U.S. support for Israel, in large part, for the attacks and warned that Israel would use it as pretext for violence. As she put it:
Fundamentalist extremists also resent the fact the United States helps Israel target Islamic civilians… . Now that our attention is on the attacks, it’s giving license to the Israelis to shoot at will.
According to another Cal Poly faculty member who prefers to remain anonymous, Foroohar helped organize the Students for Justice and Peace in the Middle East-sponsored “Wall of Separation” displays on her campus from 2007 through 2010. During at least one of those occasions, she also gave a presentation. He added that:
In 2007, two of our Hillel students, on their own and not representing Hillel, made a couple of 2×3 posters and held them on the sidewalk, perhaps thirty feet away from their wall on our Dexter Lawn area. When she came in and saw them, she called the police to come and remove the students! The police responded, but told the students to walk with the signs, not plant them in the lawn. Complaints to the university about violations of free speech drew no response.
Had CFA members been aware of Foroohar’s extremist background, it’s a safe assumption they would have been hesitant to endorse the 2009 resolution. That a radical academic such as Foroohar was able to impose her anti-Israel positions on a union representing 23,000 faculty, counselors, librarians, and coaches on twenty-three campuses speaks volumes about the ability of a fanatical few to advance a deceptive, and often false, narrative on the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Moreover, the campaign to delegitimize Israel through the CFA didn’t stop with the 2009 resolution. It may have opened the door for a future resolution to boycott and divest from Israel, which union leadership—responding to this author’s interview requests during and after the closed-door 74th CFA Assembly in San Francisco on April 8-9, 2011—refused to confirm or deny is in the works. At the conference, Nena Torrez, an education professor at California State University, San Bernadino, and current member of the Committee, was whisked away by her colleagues before I could broach the subject of BDS, while later requests for an appointment with CFA staff were stymied and eventually labeled “harassment.”
A number of CFA members certainly believe that a BDS resolution has been passed, and the fact that union leadership has engaged an attorney who has advised them not to discuss boycott-related issues with the rank and file would seem to back up their suspicions. In addition, several CFA members have consulted an attorney about the unelected members of the Committee authoring politicized resolutions against the wishes of the membership-at-large. Meanwhile, the second largest academic union in the U.S. may soon begin promoting boycotting and divesting from the Jewish state.
Lee Kaplan is an investigative journalist and columnist who writes for Isracampus.org.il, Israel National News, and the Northeast Intelligence Network. He is a Fellow at the American Center for Democracy and the founder of DAFKA.org and StoptheISM.com. He wrote this article for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.