Unsurprisingly for an organization whose membership has been perennially hostile to Israel, the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) just awarded its 2022 Jere L. Bacharach Service Award to San Francisco State University (SFSU) Prof. Rabab Abdulhadi.
MESA portrays itself as an organization of scholars engaged in research and instruction about the Middle East, but in fact, it has long since devolved into a highly politicized group of radical academics. Moreover, they have weaponized their organization and transformed it into a machine for vilifying Israel. The award to Abdulhadi is the inevitable result of their toxic ideology.
MESA members—who Middle East studies expert Martin Kramer once described as “tenured incompetents” due to their defective scholarship—confirmed their anti-Israel bias earlier this year when they voted overwhelmingly to endorse a boycott of Israeli scholars “for their complicity in Israel’s violations of human rights and international law through their provision of direct assistance to the military and intelligence establishments.”
Abdulhadi, who is director of SFSU’s Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Studies (AMED) program, was clearly given MESA’s award for her execrable record of radical anti-Israel and antisemitic campus activism. For example, she referred to Zionists as white nationalists in a 2019 UCLA lecture. She was also embroiled in controversy for sponsoring a virtual speaking appearance, originally planned for 2020, by Leila Khaled, a terrorist affiliated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Khaled’s resume includes her role in the 1969 hijacking of an Israel-bound plane and her arrest the following year during the failed hijacking of an El Al flight.
Promotional materials for the roundtable discussion with Khaled, entitled “Whose Narrative? Gender, Justice, & Resistance,” glowingly described Khaled as a “Palestinian feminist, militant and leader.” Abdulhadi herself called Khaled a “Palestinian feminist icon” an “icon in liberation movements and … an icon for women’s liberation.”
Criticism of the Khaled event forced SFSU President Lynn Mahoney to publish an op-ed in which—while Mahoney distanced herself from terrorism and the toxic ideology behind the event—defended AMED’s right to sponsor such speakers based on academic freedom and the desire to “hear divergent ideas, viewpoints and accounts of life experiences.”
Khaled and Abdulhadi had collaborated in this type of toxic activism before. In 2014, for example, Abdulhadi was criticized for using $7,000 of SFSU’s taxpayer funds to travel to the Middle East to conduct what she described as “research.” It was actually a “political solidarity tour” during which Abdulhadi met with Khaled and representatives of designated Islamist terror organizations.
Abdulhadi also set up a collaboration between SFSU and An-Najah National University in Judea-Samaria. In fact, MESA specifically pointed to this in its announcement of Abdulhadi’s award.
Matthew Levitt, director of the Washington Institute’s Stein Program on Terrorism, Intelligence and Policy, has revealed extensive ties between An-Najah and terrorism. He stated that “the terrorist recruitment, indoctrination and radicalization of students for which An-Najah is known typically take place via various student groups. Of the 13 members of An-Najah’s 2004 student council, eight—including the chairperson—belong to Hamas’ Islamic Bloc.”
In 2018, outgoing SFSU President Leslie Wong apologized to Jewish students and faculty for his chronically disappointing record on addressing anti-Israel and antisemitic activism on campus. He publicly proclaimed that, contrary to his past statements, Zionists are welcome at SFSU.
That small step at “normalizing” Zionism was too much for Abdulhadi. She flew into a rage and pronounced, “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” (emphasis added).
Just in case anyone might draw the wrong conclusion from her hateful rhetoric, Abdulhadi clarified, “I am anti-Zionist. I’m not anti-Jew. So don’t call me antisemitic.”
In 2017 and 2018, separate lawsuits against SFSU stated 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.”
Clearly, the antisemitic climate at SFSU is not only the result of student activism. The ideological reign of terror fostered and encouraged by SFSU faculty in general and Abdulhadi in particular is an even more important factor.
MESA’s award to Abdulhadi reveals the organization’s complete lack of moral clarity. It celebrates an activist pseudo-scholar who has waged an ideological war against Israel, lauded terrorists who sought to murder Jews and demonized Zionism, Jews and Israel itself as manifestations of white supremacy and racism.
All of this simply confirms MESA’s pathological hatred of Jews and how debased and academically irrelevant the organization has become.
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 Jew-Hatred Rising: The Perversities of the Campus War Against Israel and Jews.