SFSU Israel-Bashing Professor’s Partisans Strike Back

In politics, as in physics, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. So, it is not surprising that those who think that state money and university facilities should be freely appropriated for bashing Israel and stirring the pot of campus anti-Semitism are now mounting a campaign to support the right of San Francisco State University Professor Rabab Abdulhami to continue her political activism on behalf of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel on the California taxpayers’ dime. 

“End the Occupation” and the International Anti-Zionist Jewish Network (whoever they are) would like you to add your name to the list in support of Abdulhami’s misdirection of state funds for personal political activism. 

Indeed, the issues transcend Abdulhami, she is simply a caricature of real academia and a symptom of what is wrong with higher education not just at an activist hotbed like SFSU but throughout the system.

Abdulhami came under fire when Tammi Benjamin, of the Jewish civil rights group, the Amcha Initiative, filed a California public records search that showed that SFSU gave Abdulhami $7000 to network with BDS militants in the Middle East and engage in political activism with two convicted terrorists. Most notably of these was Leila Khaled of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the group that brought you modern airline hijacking and the shooting up of airline terminals. Before there was 9/11, there was Leila Khaled and the PFLP.

To Abdulhami, Khaled is not some reprehensible accomplice to murder whose terrorist comrades caused the deaths of hundreds of innocent people, including 28 Puerto Ricans on a Christian Pilgrimage who happened to be getting their baggage in the Lod Airport in 1972, but an iconic figure, a feminist role model. 

I presume we should hasten to send our daughters to SFSU so they too might be feminist airline hijackers.

It was not just the funding of the trip that is causing public outrage. It is the use of university resources to further the propaganda of the BDS campaign, when Abdulhami and her fellow travelers made a public presentation of their activist junket at SFSU.

Professor Joanne Barker, who accompanied Abdulhami, explained the trip this way on her website (since taken down): “Each delegate came to bear witness…as a result of Israel’s occupation and to build working relationships…consistent with a call for a campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel….”

How this relates to the teaching and research mission of any university is beyond comprehension. 

The event began with Barker and Abdulhami drowning on ad nauseum about Israeli security measures they encountered as they went from the Jordan to the Israeli side of the Allenby Bridge. Listening to the incessant whining about “intentional humiliation,” I waited in vain for some remote explanation of the measures a society under siege like Israel, or Britain during the Irish Republican Army bombing campaign, might take. 

If I thought I was going to hear anything conceptual, theoretical, or what I would typically expect of an academic gathering, it was soon clear that was not on going to happen.

Even simple facts got muddled in the droning propaganda. The problem with being a propagandist and a professor is that you cannot do both. The professoriate requires an immersion in a subject matter. Simply put, your expertise is shaped by learning more and more about less and less. You recognize the need for being careful and precise in what you say, being nuanced, and entertaining the other side of the debate. The university’s mission, ideally put, is the quest for truth; however difficult, however unobtainable, that is the goal.

Abdulhami made the outrageous statement that “Israel does not recognize King Hussein” and then added that he was on the CIA terrorist list until 1976. “[T]his is a well known fact," she said. The first of these of course is just plain silly. The second is a muddle. King Hussein was not on the CIA terrorist list until 1976. He was on its payroll, an embarrassing fact surfaced by Bob Woodward of the Washington Post.

She alleged that Israel wants to lower the number of Palestinians in Jerusalem to 8%. This is a specific statement that any real scholar would document. Instead, she wandered into some nonsequitur about her brother living in Jerusalem for 17 years and not being able to get an ID. Israel, she alleges, wants to harass Arabs to leave Jerusalem.

If that’s true, the Israelis are doing a terrible job of it. The Council on Foreign Relations actually polled Jerusalem’s Arabs and found that of those who expressed a preference between living in Israel or living in a new state of Palestine, more Arabs wanted to live in Israel. Systemic survey research is the difference between scholarship and traveler’s tales.

Professors are private citizens and free to exercise their political rights as private citizens. However, their private political opinions or missions are not part of their being a professor and have no place in the classroom, the campus auditorium, or being sustained by the taxpayers dime. Ironically, the campaign to support professor Abdulhami disingenuously says that the campaign on her behalf is to foster the work of the university. It isn’t. It is to foster her obsession with BDS. Let the campaign to support her fund the next trip and provide the public space for the dissemination of her experiences.

Abdulhami’s BDS campaign masquerading as scholarship is an insult to SFSU. That the university permits it tells us why the stature of higher education continues to diminish in the public eye. As a former academician, I welcome a scholarly rendition of the Palestinian narrative. If SFSU thinks that’s desirable, let them hire a real scholar with a real background in the issues. Abdulhami is an expert on global feminism, not on the Middle East. That she grew up in Nabulus no more makes her an expert on Palestine than growing up in Sacramento makes one an expert on California state politics. Abdulhami’s BDS campaign at public expense just might give SFSU an indication of how far it has strayed from the mission of a real university. 


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