Wednesday, September 28, 2016

SFSU Links with Controversial Palestinian University Troubles Pro-Israel Advocates

A row over a relationship between San Francisco State University and a university in the West Bank has reached Congress, where a memorandum of understanding between SFSU and An-Najah National University is being challenged.

An-Najah has been accused of fostering an environment of violence and terror, and is broadly seen in that light by Israelis. The largest university in the West Bank and Gaza, An-Najah has a long history of politically extreme connections.

In 2013, Hamas was re-introduced to student council elections through students with strong ties to the terrorist organization, Al-Monitor reported at the time. The move was seen to signal a return by Hamas to West Bank politics, as Palestinian universities are traditionally closely tied to Palestinian political life.

This month the Middle East Forum (MEF), a Philadelphia-based conservative nonprofit group, alerted Congress to the relationship between the two schools. MEF argues that the relationship presents a potential security risk due to exchanges between faculty members and students.

“An-Najah is a hotbed of Islamist radicalism,” the organization wrote in a letter to the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “Going back to at least 2001, clear documentation exists that prominent current and former students from An-Najah were directly involved in terrorism, as well as pro-terrorist propaganda and incitement.”

An-Najah is based in Nablus, a city of about 120,000 people in the northern West Bank that was a violent flashpoint during the second intifada. Fighting and skirmishes there between 2001 and 2005 left scores of bullet holes in walls and windows that are still visible today.

Posters of people from Nablus killed during that period and since then, including some who carried out terrorist attacks, are still plastered on the outside of buildings around the city, which Israeli citizens are strictly forbidden from entering.

During a reception with faculty in April 2015, SFSU’s president, Leslie Wong, publicly lauded the memorandum of understanding (MOU) with An-Najah.

“It was really easy for me to sign the agreement with An-Najah University,” said Wong. He added that after a trip to the area in 2013, he decided he wanted SFSU to be one of the first universities to sign an agreement with An-Najah or “any of the other universities in the Arab world.”

“I feel deeply that it was not only the right thing to do, but this university should have done it twenty years ago, fifty years ago,” said Wong. “We are playing a little bit of catch up, but that’s okay.”

State law gives university presidents within the California State University system the authority to sign agreements such as MOUs with foreign institutions. Despite criticism over the relationship, Wong said he stands behind the decision.

Still, the relationship between An-Najah and SFSU is not listed among the numerous official international partnerships on SFSU’s website.  A search, however, does bring up references in the university’s mentions in the media, referring to “a memorandum of understanding that SF State has with Al-Najah University, a Palestinian university in the West Bank.”

Rabab Ibrahim Abdulhadi, associate professor of “race and resistance studies” at SFSU, is a major proponent of the relationship. Rabab is director of the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Initiative and an adviser and mentor of the General Union of Palestinian Students at SFSU. Her academic profile page features a list of published papers dealing with Palestinian issues and an image of a raised fist with a call for a “third intifada” in Arabic.

According to the Canary Mission, a database documenting people and organizations that promote hatred of the US, Israel, and the Jewish people on campuses in North America, Abdulhadi has publicly “defended branding radical advocacy as scholarship and her alignment with avowed terrorists.”

A copy of the MOU obtained by MEF through a public records request shows that it was signed by both university presidents in late 2014. Neither SFSU nor An-Najah responded to requests for comment, emailed to their respective public affairs departments.

According to the MEF, the silence about the partnership is typical.

“This has been going on for two years,” MEF director Gregg Roman said by phone. He said the stonewalling hasn’t stopped his organization from pursuing the issue. “We took our time, we did due diligence. No one responded to us.”

Roman said that since sending the letter to Congress, the MEF has been in touch with relevant congressional offices whose “opinion of this has been quite negative.”

“They are concerned, especially in a time of combatting extremism,” said Roman. “It’s quite absurd that there is a relationship between these universities.”

Cinnamon Stillwell, the West Coast representative for MEF’s Campus Watch program, added that there are genuine security concerns. Stillwell,  a graduate of SFSU, has written extensively about the university’s engagement with Palestinian universities.

“I personally witnessed anti-Israel behavior on campus, in particular the controversy in the 1990s surrounding anti-Semitic symbols in the original Malcolm X mural,” Stillwell said in an email. “So I see the MOU with An-Najah as a continuation of an established pattern.”


History Teacher Stomps on U.S. Flag in Classroom

A North Carolina history teacher is facing a firestorm of controversy after he allegedly stomped on a U.S. flag inside a public school classroom.

The incident happened Monday at Massey Hill Classical high School in Fayetteville, home to Fort Bragg and one of the most patriotic communities in the nation.

“What that teacher did was a gut punch to all the military kids at that school,” one outraged parent told me. “More so to the ones with deployed parents and unforgivably so to Gold Star kids who lost a parent who fought under that flag. It is indefensible.”

A spokesperson for Cumberland County Superintendent Frank Till Jr. told me they are investigating the allegations and will not comment until the probe is completed.

“Clearly there are other ways to teach First Amendment rights without desecrating a flag,” the superintendent said in a statement to television station WRAL.

The Fayetteville Observer identified the teacher as Lee Francis.

A Facebook user identified as Sara Taylor posted a photo online that showed Francis at a lectern with the American flag crumpled on the floor.

“That flag might not mean anything to that teacher, but it means a lot to us and it means a lot to the family’s (sic) who had their service member come home to them in a casket with that flag draped over it,” Taylor wrote.

WRAL quoted students as saying the teacher tried to burn and cut the flag before dropping it on the floor. They also report that at least two students walked out of the classroom during the demonstration.

An active duty Army officer who has children in the Cumberland County school system told me not only was the teacher disrespectful but also a bully.

“I believe the teacher should be fired,” the officer said (asking not to be identified). “And if the principal defends him, she should resign and go to a non-military community.”

The fact is that many children of our brave fighting men and women attend that school and they deserve better.

I was especially moved by the patriotism of the teenagers in that classroom. Ms. Taylor wrote on her post that one of the students took the flag out of the classroom and asked that it be properly take care of.

God bless those young people.


UK: Let’s put the campus sex panic to bed

Freshers, ignore the fearmongers and enjoy your newfound freedom

‘You know you want it’, sang Robin Thicke in ‘Blurred Lines’. This, of course, was the song that was banned by 25 students’ unions in 2013 because its lyrics didn’t fit the NUS-approved narrative about sex. And yet, if you’re starting university, chances are Robin is right: you do want it.

After all, alongside broader horizons and better job prospects, sex has long been one of the major draws of going to university. For most students, freshers’ year is the first time they’ve lived away from home. And they tend to make the most of this newfound liberty by seeking out the pleasures that were previously denied to them: namely, staying out all hours and having some sex.

This is all to the good. But, sadly, student sex has been getting a lot of bad press of late. According to student newspaper the Tab, sexual harassment and consent workshops will be running this term at nine universities, including Oxford. Some of these workshops will be compulsory for all first-years.

Royal Holloway has signed up to the National Union of Students’ (NUS) ‘I Heart Consent’ campaign, and will be carrying out workshops covering the legal definitions of rape and sexual assault, in between asking students to give examples of ‘slut-shaming’ and ‘prude-shaming’. Meanwhile, Bristol students will get to enjoy a mandatory quiz, laying out sexual scenarios and asking them to judge whether they are consensual. And the bar staff at the University of East Anglia are being trained to stop lewd behaviour (wouldn’t you have loved to have been a fly on the wall at that training day?).

So, why the panic about students’ sex lives? Well, much of it stems from the NUS’s 2010 Hidden Marks report, which claimed that one in seven women experience ‘serious physical or sexual assault during their time as a student’. But though Hidden Marks sparked a flurry of scaremongering headlines, it doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny. The central statistic lumped together a range of experiences, from ‘touching over clothes’ to general physical assault – effectively conflating clumsy come-ons with serious crimes.

But campus ‘rape culture’ is the myth that just won’t die. This year, students have returned to university to find yet another sexual-harassment campaign. Launched by Drinkaware, ‘You Wouldn’t Sober, You Shouldn’t Drunk’ aims to encourage #GropeFreeNights. A report about the campaign on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire show included students talking about examples of sexual harassment they’d experienced on a night out. They describe ‘unwanted attention’, ‘someone coming up to you when you’ve given no signal you’re interested’, and ‘creepy guys’ who stand too close. That’s not sexual harassment – that’s just bad flirting.

And yet, despite all the evidence to the contrary, the idea that campuses are hotbeds of sexual violence is still taken as gospel. Sports teams have been disciplined or banned altogether for promoting so-called lad culture through sexist banter. What it all amounts to is a wholly inaccurate picture of campus life, where women are at constant threat of being harassed and men are only ever a couple of drinks (or jokes) away from turning into sexual deviants.

The NUS, along with various fearmongering campaign groups, seems to want students to believe that sex is scary. I wouldn’t be surprised if next year’s campaign was simply titled, ‘Abstinence – just do it!’. But, if you are a fresher, there are two very important things to remember. One, sex is fun; that’s why it has silly synonyms like ‘shagging’ and ‘bonking’. And two, your sex life is no one’s business but your own.

The world the anti-sex-brigade seeks to conjure up – one where women are victims and men are sexual predators – simply doesn’t exist. This is certainly not the norm on campus. And female students are as proud of the notches on their bedposts as their male counterparts. Flirting, come-ons, one-night stands that you’d rather forget… these are all part of the student experience. For many students, freshers’ is a great opportunity to get some experience in. And, best of all, it’s a fantastic source of stories to keep up your sleeve for ‘I have never’-style drinking games.

Here’s hoping most students ignore the campus sex panic this freshers’ week and cheerfully get on with getting their leg over – in and around their other scholarly commitments, of course.


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