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Radicalization 101: How Anti-Western Forces Infect American Campuses

How many times have we heard about radical professors brainwashing students into Marxist, anti-Western and even pro-terror ideals? Or of students chanting “death to Israel, death to America,” like those heard in the summer of 2020? While much has been written about indoctrination in academia, seldom has the public been offered a direct view into how this can occur. But a recent two-day conference hosted in Beirut, Lebanon on September 10-11 by the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Studies department (AMED) at the taxpayer-funded San Francisco University, which featured a variety of unsavory characters belonging to U.S.-designated Palestinian terrorist organizations, is perhaps the greatest showcase of radicalization happening right before our very eyes.

According to the Jerusalem Post, the conference was also broadcast on AMED’s social media pages as part of the department’s “Teaching Palestine” project and was spearheaded by AMED director and SFSU professor Rabab Abdulhadi. It was ostensibly meant to commemorate several notable anniversaries for Palestinians, such as the Sabra & Shatila massacre and Israel’s assassination of terror leader Ghassan Kanafani.

Among the speakers was Salah Salah, one of the founding members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a U.S.-designated Marxist terror group with American blood on its hands, including 17 Christian pilgrims from Puerto Rico who were murdered in the 1972 Lod Airport Massacre. The mastermind behind the attack, Kōzō Okamoto, was honored by the PFLPin a 2016 ceremony, where Salah attended and sat next to Okamoto. At one point during Salah’s panel, he and Abdulhadi joined in a friendly embrace.

Another guest speaker was Sami Al-Arian, a former professor at the University of South Florida who pled guilty in 2006 to assisting the U.S.-designated Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and was subsequently deported to Turkey.

The most high-profile would-be guest of the evening was PFLP airplane hijacker Leila Khaled, who was set to appear via Zoom on a panel alongside Al-Arian and Prof. Abdulhadi, but last-minute technical difficulties prevented her participation.

The conference participants are bad enough. Yet, equally troubling is that SFSU has allowed, time and again, Abdulhadi to continue recruiting these extremists for her “educational” curriculum. Back in September 2020, AMED produced headlines when it tried to host Khaled for a lecture over Zoom until the platform forcibly canceled the event. While Zoom took commendable action, SFSU rejected multiple requests to shutter it beforehand.

Some may contend that Prof. Abdulhadi is a rarity—an anomaly being exploited to cast wide, unfair aspersions on academia and the state of affairs on college campuses.

That is wrong.

In June 2021, for example, an event organized by the same Sami Al-Arian, which took place under the auspices of the Muslim Brotherhood and Turkish government affiliates, enjoyed the participation of nine professors from public universities, including the University of Denver, Columbia University, Ohio State University, UCLA and the University of Arizona. Of course, SFSU’s very own Prof. Abdulhadi was there as well.

When approached about Abdulhadi’s Beirut conference, an SFSU spokesperson replied that it was “neither sponsored nor authorized by SF State, and we have contacted organizers to notify them of unauthorized use of the SF State name.”

This response is unsatisfactory.

Based on the open letter of support published in Mondoweiss this week detailing so-called “injurious actions” taken against Abdulhadi since June 2022, it appears that SFSU’s administration was aware of the Beirut conference in advance and pressured Abdulhadi not to affiliate the university with it—a request she clearly denied by advertising the event on AMED’s social media pages and placing a large AMED banner on the conference stage.

Whether SFSU had prior knowledge of the event or not, the entire incident is demonstrative of the fact that there is a clear pathway for academics to radicalize students, and that university administrations lack the tools, or rather the willingness, to stare that radicalism in the face and stop it from poisoning their campuses.

This complacency has real-world ramifications, including at SFSU, where Jewish students are demonized for their membership in campus organizations aimed at empowering Jewish identity.

This complacency has real-world ramifications, including at SFSU, where Jewish students are demonized for their membership in campus organizations aimed at empowering Jewish identity. But perhaps the most concerning consequence is that often, fanatical students become professors themselves, thereby perpetuating a cycle of radicalization.

The point is that the same extremism that Abdulhadi has spent years infusing into her curricula and instilling into her students doubtlessly plagues other academic institutions as well, while administrators effectively turn a blind eye. The only way to begin solving this problem is to take a real look and tackle it head-on. Maybe then we’ll finally figure out how to prevent our fellow citizens from yelling “death to America.”


Eitan Fischberger is an international relations and Middle East analyst based in Israel. His work has been published in NBC News Think, National Review, and more. Tweet him @EFischberger.

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