A feminist author and a professor of anthropology, Near Eastern Studies, and Islamic Studies at UCLA, where she also has had a long association with the campus Women's Studies Department, Sondra Hale's early interest in Africa led her to travel to Sudan, where she claims to have "learned my feminism from Sudanese women" who "were the strongest and most accomplished women I've ever met."
This trip to Sudan -- which inculcated Hale with a strong affinity for African, especially Arab Muslim-African culture -- planted the seed from which her later radical feminist and pro-Arab ideas would help form a worldview that blends radical feminism with a passion for the Palestinian cause on the one hand, and vitriolic hatred for the United States and Israel on the other.
After receiving her Ph.D. from UCLA in 1979, Hale was eventually was appointed as chair of the Women's Studies program. In 1982 she became embroiled in controversy over the direction the program was taking. It had come to light, via an Associated Press article, that she was teaching her classes from a decidedly radical-feminist, "imbalanced" point of view with an "emphasis on lesbianism and an advocacy of it." At the time, the Women's Studies program was already under the microscope because of complaints that one of its female instructors had shown photographic slides of her genitals in class, while a male instructor had offered extra credit to students who agreed to engage in experimental sex. To avoid further controversy, UCLA demoted Hale from her position as chair, temporarily closing the Women's Center and canceling all courses in the Women's Studies program.
In response, Hale and twelve fellow faculty members, with help from the American Civil Liberties Union, initiated a lawsuit that would drag on for nearly a decade, resulting, in 1991, in a cumulative $110,000 settlement for the six teachers and administrators who were still plaintiffs in the case.
After her demotion from UCLA's Women's Studies program, Hale took a job in the anthropology department at California State University (1987-1994) while remaining at UCLA as a lecturer. In 1997 she became an adjunct professor in this discipline at UCLA, where she eventually won tenure in 2001.
By this time, Hale was a devotee of Columbia University professor Edward Said, a hard-core Palestinian sympathizer anxious for Israel's eradication. Some of Said's writing, such as this piece from 2002 had a dramatic impact on Hale's views:
"Palestinian hospitals, schools, refugee camps and civilian residences have been at the receiving end of a merciless, criminal assault by Israeli troops.... and still the poorly armed resistance fighters take on this preposterously more powerful force ... turning all its great power against a stateless, repeatedly refugeed, and dispossessed people, bereft of arms and real leadership.... Israel is now waging a war against civilians, pure and simple, although you will never hear it put that way in the U.S. This is a racist war, and in its strategy and tactics, a colonial one as well. People are being killed and made to suffer disproportionately because they are not Jews. What an irony!"
The idea of a belligerent Israel waging war against innocent Palestinian civilians soon became for her a commitment that transcended the merely academic. She was a signatory to a 2002 open letter warning of Israel's alleged plan to use the impending Iraq War as a pretext to engage in "ethnic cleansing" against the Palestinians. In addition, she was a scheduled participant in the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) conference on academic boycotts against Israel, an event that was ultimately cancelled.
By the time of Said's death in 2003, Hale had fully embraced the Palestinian cause—along with its associated anti-American and anti-Israel sentiments. She subsequently became a member of the organizing committee of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (ACBI), a coalition that makes its agendas clear in the following call to action:
"In light of Israel's persistent violations of international law, and given that, since 1948, hundreds of UN resolutions have condemned Israel's colonial and discriminatory policies as illegal and called for immediate, adequate and effective remedies, and given that all forms of international intervention and peace-making have until now failed to convince or force Israel to comply with humanitarian law, to respect fundamental human rights and to end its occupation and oppression of the people of Palestine, and in view of the fact that people of conscience in the international community have historically shouldered the moral responsibility to fight injustice, as exemplified in the struggle to abolish apartheid in South Africa through diverse forms of boycott, divestment and sanctions … we, representatives of Palestinian civil society, call upon international civil society organizations and people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era."
The academic boycott that Hale supports has drawn support from the anti-Israel luminaries such as South Africa's Archbishop Desmond Tutu and sundry leftists, Islamists and academics worldwide.
In the summer of 2006, Hale and ACBI supported a coalition of Palestinian academics who were protesting the July 6 Israeli military incursion into Gaza, which had been launched in response to Arab kidnappings and provocations. In 2008 Hale condemned Israel's bombing of the Islamic University of Gaza. "That," she said, "made us think Israeli academics should take a stand and put pressure on their universities, which are highly implicated in the developing of weapons through scientific research, not unlike other universities." The fact that Palestinian terrorists were using the Islamic University into a Hamas Qassam rocket-manufacturing facility had no impact on her public statements.
Hale's inflexible worldview encourages her to divide the world neatly into two opposing camps: the victims and the victimizers. By her telling, the Palestinians are always the former, the Israelis always the latter. This grand idea organizes her academic and her personal life.