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The Middle East Studies Establishment Goes Full Warrior

It’s only to be expected. My colleagues and I at the Middle East Forum have for over two decades criticized the decline of Middle East studies; so now, its syndicate, the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), has for the first time in 14 years replied in kind. The fusillade takes the form of a letter to Leslie Wong, president of San Francisco State University (SFSU).

MEF’s Campus Watch has documented the disturbing ties between SFSU and An-Najah National University, a radical institution in the West Bank lauded by Hamas as a “greenhouse for martyrs” and described by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy as a hotbed of “terrorist recruitment, indoctrination, and [the] radicalization of students.” We believe that Najah’s long and sordid record should make it an academic pariah.

Specifically, we procured a copy of SFSU’s Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Najah which revealed plans to set up faculty and student exchanges. Finding this agreement with the “greenhouse for martyrs” outrageous, MEF announced a nationwide campaign on Sep. 15 calling on SFSU to cancel the MOU with Najah.

MESA, always eager to flaunt its anti-Zionist credentials, responded with alacrity: on Sep. 19, its dual leadership of Beth Baron and Amy W. Newhall issued a letter to Wong that needs to be read in full to appreciate its factual inaccuracy and moral obtuseness. It does three things: whitewashes Najah’s history, defends an SFSU faculty member from alleged “harassment” by us, and smears MEF’s motives.

(1) In the modern fact-free style of so many of its members, MESA does not try to disprove our (extensively documented) charge that Najah’s long history of accommodating and promoting terrorists makes it unsuitable as a partner with any American university. Rather, the letter airily dismisses our factual argument as “baseless” and “spurious,” without so much as bothering to produce evidence showing our errors.

(2) We noted that Prof. Rabab Abdulhadi, an SFSU professor, had stitched together the MOU and gave examples of her dubious activities. MESA responded by accusing MEF of engaging in “harassment of Rabab Abdulhadi … for her political views.” MEF’s critique of Abdulhadi, however, focuses not on her political views but on her efforts to implement the bigoted BDS regimen against Israel and to cement SFSU’s relationship with a radical, terrorist-friendly university. By this same logic, panning an actor’s or athlete’s poor performance constitutes “harassment.” This is an old story: academics claim a unique immunity from being judged, as though they possess a knowledge so esoteric that the rest of us ignorami should unquestioningly defer to them.

(3) Going into full jihad mode, MESA dismisses MEF as one of several “politically motivated nonacademic organizations which seek to stifle perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict … often by alleging that such criticism [of Israeli policies] is anti-Semitic.” Reeling from these words, I drag myself off the floor to salute MESA’s audacious implication that it – a hotbed of political fractures (such as between the pro-Tehran and pro-Riyadh factions) – stands above the fray; and also, how it relegates my Ph.D. in history from Harvard to the non-academic bin.

As for the tired cliché that we seek to stifle others, I dredge an obvious point from the hoary archive: as a small, private organization, MEF could not silence anyone even if it wanted to (which, incidentally, it does not). How many times need one repeat this obvious fact?

Finally, our alluding to Najah as an organization that encourages students “to anti-Zionism, anti-Semitism, anti-Americanism, and violence” is not part of a common pattern but an unusual and much-considered step that we stand by. Simply put, if Najah’s support for BDS and intifada, as well as its record of producing jihadis who murder random Jews, does not amount to anti-Semitism, this term has no meaning.

The Middle East Forum regrets that SFSU signed an agreement with Najah and that MESA has leaped into the fray with its slimy, sophistic letter. But we cheerfully assure both institutions that Campus Watch, the Consumer Reports of Middle East studies, will remain on their case so long as the need continues for its services.