State-Funded University Promoting Alliances with Hamas-dominated Palestinian Universities?

Rabab Abdulhadi, director of San Francisco State University (SFSU)’s Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Initiative (AMED) and a committed anti-Israel activist, has long sought an alliance between SFSU and two Palestinian universities, An-Najah and Bir Zeit. The April 22 victory of Hamas, or the Islamic Bloc, in Bir Zeit’s student council elections demonstrates the perversity of this endeavor.

Bir Zeit University, located in the West Bank about a dozen miles north of Jerusalem, was already a seat of Islamist activity. The Hamas-supporters’ win assures that an imprisoned terrorist will hold the title of “honorary chairman” of the student council.

According to Arab-Israeli journalist Khaled Abu Toameh:

Hamas supporters on campus won 26 seats, compared to 16 for their rivals in the Fatah faction, headed by Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas.

The results of the election mean that Bilal Barghouti, who is serving 16 life terms in prison for his role in a series of suicide attacks against Israel, has become the “Honorary Chairman of the Bir Zeit University Student Council.”

Abdulhadi’s efforts to forge ties with Bir Zeit and An-Najah -- which put off its April 26 student council election, possibly out of fear of a Hamas victory and ensuing partisan conflict -- dates back at least to January, 2014. At the time, she organized and participated in a controversial, university-funded “Academic and Labor Delegation to Palestine,” during which she met with individuals affiliated with U.S. State Department-designated terrorist organizations. The AMCHA Initiative, an organization that combats campus anti-Semitism, obtained an audio recording of a March, 2014 College of Ethnic Studies (which houses AMED) event to discuss the trip and, in a letter to SFSU President Leslie Wong, noted the following:

[A]t the end of the event, Abdulhadi announced to the audience that she was working towards organizing collaborative agreements between CSU campuses and two Palestinian universities, An-Najah and Birzeit, and she urged students in the audience to let her know if they would be interested in studying at these universities.

In a June, 2014 public statement responding to AMCHA’s allegations, which included improper use of university funds for the trip (a charge SFSU eventually denied), Abdulhadi confirmed that:

[T]he purpose of the trip was to attend an international conference and to research, network, and collaborate with potential university partners towards a possible memorandum of understanding between San Francisco State University (SFSU) and Palestinian universities. . . . During our visit we met with representatives of An-Najah and Birzeit Universities, toward developing the MOU and other collaborative relationships.

In the process, she insisted that:

AMCHA has particularly sought to also attack Palestinian universities, describing them as “well-known for their virulent antisemitism and support of terror” in order to prevent communication and collaboration between the U.S. and Palestinian academies. In fact, An-Najah and Birzeit Universities are highly respected prominent universities in the Arab world.

To the contrary, Bir Zeit University is notorious for an atmosphere in which incitement to violence and expressions of hatred towards Israelis and Jews is ubiquitous, as is support for Hamas and, to a lesser extent, Fatah. The blogger Elder of Ziyon has documented a number of examples, including an “art exhibit” featuring mock Qassam rockets and tributes to “martyrs” (terrorists) and a pro-Hamas march with all the disturbing regalia associated with Gaza’s Islamist  rulers.

According to Matthew Levitt, director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, writing in 2007:

During student elections at Bir Zeit University in 2003, Hamas candidates reenacted suicide bombings by blowing up models of Israeli buses. In one Bir Zeit campus debate, a Hamas candidate taunted his Fatah challenger by boasting, “Hamas activists in this University killed 135 Zionists. How many did Fatah activists from Bir Zeit kill?”

Of An-Najah University, Levitt had this to say:

Some of the most notorious Hamas terrorists have held senior positions in the al-Najah faction [of the student council], including Qais Adwan, a former Islamic Bloc leader and head of the al-Najah student council, who was also the head of the Qassam Brigades in the northern West Bank.

Not only did Abdulhadi deny the well-documented nature of these universities, she engaged in rank hypocrisy. A founding member of the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, Abdulhadi signed a 2012 open letter to university presidents objecting to their participation in a delegation to Israel and urging officials not to “pursue institutional relationships between your universities and Israeli universities.”  

While there is no evidence at this time that SFSU finalized a memorandum of understanding with Bir Zeit, An-Najah is a different story. A November, 2014 Facebook post attributed to Abdulhadi and the College of Ethnic Studies -- which is either unavailable to the public or has been removed, but was excerpted in an “SF State Black Alumni Group” post -- noted that:

Today San Francisco State University’s All University Committee on International Programs unanimously voted to recommend that SF State formally collaborate with An-Najah National University in Nablus, Palestine. This is the first time that SFSU will collaborate with any university in a Palestinian, Arab or Muslim community. I am proud, excited and grateful to my colleagues @ An-Najah. It is my honor to be working with you. . . . Next step: Study abroad program in Palestine.

The 2014-2015 annual report for SFSU’s All University Committee on International Programs is dated May, 2014 and thus, does not include this vote. However, a February, 2015 statement at An-Najah University’s website proudly boasts that:

A Memorandum of Understanding was signed on September 10th between An-Najah University and San Fransisco [sic] State University to promote cooperation between the two universities. . . . This agreement . . . was signed by Prof. Maher Natsheh, Acting President of An-Najah, and Dr. Leslie Wong, President of SF State. . . .  The agreement was signed following a visit by Dr. Rabab Abdelhadi [sic] from SF State to An-Najah when she met with An-Najah senior staff and reached the above mentioned agreement.

Given that its faculty was instrumental in forging these relationships, why isn’t SFSU eager to publicize official ties with either An-Najah or, were it to occur, Bir Zeit? Could the fact that both universities are hotbeds of radicalization, as demonstrated by, among other things, the prominence of both Hamas and Fatah in their respective student councils, have anything to do with its reticence?  

If SFSU President Wong truly supported Abdulhadi’s efforts, he would broadcast that one of his professors has succeeded in setting up a memorandum of understanding with a Hamas-dominated Palestinian university. We await his announcement with bated breath.       

Cinnamon Stillwell is the West Coast Representative for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum. She can be reached at