This article first appeared in Eagle Rising.
Largely as a result of Saudi money, Middle East studies departments are sprouting up like mushrooms on university campuses across the country. The most recent example is the recent announcement by the Yale University law school that they are now establishing a center for the study of Islamic law, thanks to a ten million dollar grant by a Saudi business with alleged ties to al Qaeda financing. It is hardly surprising that with Saudi money certain threads of thought will be prominent. One would be solid opposition to Israel. Another would be that the Arab world and Islam can do no wrong. Yes, Arab dictators can be criticized especially if they are the object of the wrath of the Islamist forces who wants to increase the role of Islam in government (ex. Egypt). Other than that, every thing in the Middle East is noble-except Israel, of course.
Another thread you will see in Middle East studies departments, which ties into the latter point, is the post-colonial philosophy as exemplified by the late Columbia professor Edward Said. This teaches us that Western civilization is corrupt, imperialistic and racist; further, that it is responsible for the ills of the third world. Thus, there is no personal responsibility acknowledged.
However, it is Israel that I want to focus on here. The point I want to make is that activist professors, combined with pro-Palestinian students, have combined to create a climate of anti-Semitism on many college campuses. It has led to a situation where many Jewish students who support Israel have spent their college years in a climate of intimidation, not only from their pro Palestinian peers, but in many cases from hostile professors in the classroom.
There are two principle student organizations that are active on campus promoting the Palestinian cause against Israel: The Students for Justice in Palestine and the various Muslim Student Association chapters around the country. There are over 150 MSA chapters on university campuses while the SJP chapters are growing rapidly. SJP was co-founded by UC Berkeley professor Hatem Bazian, an activist Palestinian who speaks publicly on Islamophobia and against Israel.
Incidentally, not all anti-Israel activists within faculty are in the Middle East departments. One notable example is David Klein, a math professor at the University of California at Northridge. Make no mistake, however; the Middle East studies departments provide much of the "scholarly" basis for the anti-Israel narrative. In addition, many of these professors travel the lecture circuit from one campus to another blasting Israel. My allies at the AMCHA Initiative, an organization devoted to exposing and combating anti-Semitism on University of California (and other) campuses, published a list of some 200 Middle East studies professors who are anti-Israel activists.
The SJP is pretty much a mirror image of the MSA, and many MSA students belong to both organizations. SJP has many non-Muslim members even some misguided Jewish students as well. It is the SJP that has been the object of intimidation complaints on many university campuses across the nation.
But as the argument goes, is it anti-Semitic to simply oppose Israel and its policies vis-a-vis the Palestinians? No, but the State Department's definition of anti-Semitism states that to hold Israel to double standards not applied to other countries or to advocate for the destruction of the Jewish state is anti-Semitic. It should also be noted that many of the invited speakers who come to campus to speak against Israel have definitely crossed the line into attacking Jews as people. I offer Amir Abdel Malik Ali, with whom I have often sparred at UC Irvine as an example.
But Ali is not a professor. He is an imam. The aforementioned Hatem Bazian has been accused of making anti-Semitic statements. For one, he is alleged to have told a campus audience to count the number of Jewish names on the campus buildings. He is also alleged to have quoted the infamous Muslim hadith of the Day of Judgement when the Jews will hide behind trees, which will call out to the Muslim, "Oh Muslim. There is a Jew hiding behind me. Come and kill him". Both Bill O'Reilly, on his Fox News show and your humble writer at UC Irvine have tried to pin him down on those quotes without success. One quote that is documented on video is his call for an intifada in the US.
Then there is the notorious Lincoln University professor Kaukab Siddique (Languages and Literature), who has been under fire for years for his incendiary comments about Jews.
Professor Rabab Abdulhadi (Ethnic Studies) at San Francisco State University was a mentor to pro-Palestinian students who a couple of years ago displayed posters on campus supporting the killing of (Israeli) "colonialists" and a Facebook page that fantasized about slitting the throats of Israeli soldiers.
At UCLA, the Center for Near Eastern Studies is little more than a hotbed of anti-Israel rhetoric and events.
But even absent specific anti-Jewish statements, how many of these faculty activists have ever stood up and decried the atmosphere of anti-Semitism and intimidation that Jewish students face on campus? Jeffrey Herf outlines the actual denial of the problem in Middle East studies departments in this piece for the History News Network.
In 2014, UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicolas Dirks put out a letter pleading for campus civility (in the face of the Israel-Palestinian back and forth on campus). He was met with a letter from three UC professors, anti-Israel activists all, claiming he was attacking free speech. They said they were rep-representing a group called Scholars for Academic Freedom.
More recently, we have experienced the UC Regents meeting at UC Irvine (September 15-17). On day 3, the issue under consideration was intolerance on campus. In preparation for that meeting, the UC provost and vice provost drafted a proposed statement of principles on intolerance. It defined intolerance and affirmed the university's commitment to tolerance toward all. Wonderful. The problem was that the issue was up for discussion because of a litany of complaints from Jewish students describing a climate of fear, intimidation and harassment on campus at the hands of pro-Palestinian students-and faculty. The discussion was centered around anti-Semitism and no other form of alleged discrimination from any other group. Yet the proposed statement of principles never mentioned anti-Semitism one time. Those who came to speak in the public forum (including this writer) spoke either for or against a request to UC President Janet Napolitano to specifically address anti-Semitism and adopt the State Department's definition of anti-Semitism. The other side said that the proposed statement was satisfactory to them. (The regents rejected the proposed statement and are setting up a "blue ribbon commission" to study the problem and come up with a new statement.)
And how much support have we received from Middle East studies faculty on UC campuses in this effort? Zero, of course. As Jeffrey Herf explains above, they maintain there is no anti-Semitic problem in the pro-Palestinian campus movement-including the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement against Israel that soaks up so much time and energy in our student governments with their asinine resolutions that the universities reject anyway.
And while we were writing letters to the University of California administrators and regents asking them to confront the problem, the other side was writing letters in opposition to our efforts-all in the name of free speech. One of those organizations was the Middle East Studies Association. Here is the letter they wrote.
The free speech they are demanding is not the freedom to criticize the state of Israel on campus. That is unquestioned. What they want is the right to call for the destruction of the Jewish state of Israel, defend the terrorists who kill innocent Israelis, and hold Israel to a different set of standards than its neighbors. Do they have the right to call for those things as well? Yes, they do, but we have the right to call them anti-Semitic.
The faculty in our Middle East studies departments, as well as faculty activists in other fields, are guilty of encouraging, inspiring, and supporting organizations like Students for Justice in Palestine in their efforts to intimidate Jewish students who support Israel. They are complicit. They have cast a dark stain on academia nationwide. Not only are they guilty of faulty and biased "scholarship". They are guilty of fostering hatred and intolerance.