At Claremont McKenna, America's best conservative liberal arts college, President Pamela Gann's administration still hasn't issued a statement on the views of Bassam Frangieh, its Hezbollah-and-Hamas-supporting Middle East Studies director, despite repeated requests from alumni, students, and faculty. With his wife, Aleta Wenger, "executive director of international programs" and herself a one-sided Israel critic, Frangieh will be running a program to train the next generation of Middle East diplomats in a satellite campus in Jordan with allegedly Kuwaiti money.
Unfortunately, rather than reply, Claremont McKenna's Richard Rodner, Vice President of Communications and Public Affairs, has taken to Wikipedia manipulations deleting all criticism of him from his Wikipedia page. I documented that here. (He actually signed the edit as "Rrodner".)
Alas, one of the subsequent edits to the Wikipedia page pointed out that Bassam Frangieh is one of 400+ professors and academics who signed a 2006 petition that called Israel a "Zionist killing machine", promised to boycott Israel and Israeli academics, and supported Hezbollah as the true army of Lebanon. (Presumably, the numbers of other professors who affixed their signatures to the petition makes that support O.K.)
On the face of it, this argument is rather specious. It implies that truth is about consensus rather than well, what is true – as if the number of people that sign your petition indicates the moral righteousness of it.
But hey, if this is the argument that Frangieh's defenders want to use, they had better claim the most "well known" names on the petition. After all, the preface to the pro-Hezbollah petition celebrated the signatories of several "well known" names in Middle East Studies. So just who are the names that have signed the famous petition with Bassam Frangieh, the director of a diplomatic program at America's top liberal arts college?
They are as follows: Tariq Ali, Virginia Tilley, Mona Baker, Omar Barghouti, Haim Bresheeth, and Norman Finkelstein. I have chosen to limit my research to these six, though I would imagine that there are more odious individuals among the other signatories, but the "well known" names were the draw for many other signatories so I will focus on each of them in turn. In reality, it's a "Who's Who" of the anti-Israel movement and Bassam Frangieh, who signed that same petition, is in good company – if by good company you mean anti-Israel, pro-Hamas and pro-Hezbollah, Holocaust-conspiracy theory company.
First, there's Tariq Ali. Mr. Ali is an actual communist whose anti-American views were in full display when, he wrote that Americans had brought 9-11 on themselves.
For the past sixty years and more the United States has toppled democratic leaders, bombed countries in three continents and used nuclear weapons against Japanese civilians, but it never knew what it felt like to have its own cities under attack. Now they [sic] know.
In Iraq, Ali supports "the resistance" and has called for the killing of American forces there. "The invaders of Iraq will eventually be harried out of the country by a growing national reaction to the occupation regime they install," he wrote. In that article, he hoped that America's "collaborators may meet the fate of Nuri Said before them" which recalled the dragging of former British-installed Iraqi P.M. who was savagely dragged through the streets.
He said that the 2005 attacks on London commuters were a result of how the West had mistreated Muslims. He wrote,
The principal cause of this violence is the violence that is being inflicted on the people of the Muslim world. … And unless this is recognized the horrors will continue. … The real solution lies in immediately ending the occupation of Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine.
Next, there's Virginia Tilley, who actually wrote a book titled, The One State Solution, that called for Israel to cease being a Jewish state. That's a political non-started, but relevant as Frangieh has brought to campus speakers who oppose the very notion of a two-state solution, like PLO member Sari Nusseinbeh, who is for it, then against it, and then for it again. He was against it when Frangieh brought him to campus.
After that, we have Mona Baker actually dismissed two Israeli academics as part of a 2002 planned boycott. Baker received a lot of controversy when she removed two Israeli academics from the editorial boards of two journals she edited for the simple reason that they were Israeli. She told them that while she respected them personally, but that she "did not wish to continue an official association with any Israeli under the present circumstances."
For that effort, she was heavily criticized in academia. Harvard Professor Stephen Greenblatt, president of the Modern Language Association of America, called the firings "repellent", "dangerous" and "morally bankrupt". For his part, Tony Blair promised to "do anything necessary" to stop boycott of Israeli scholars. Feminist professor, Judith Butler of Berkley, meanwhile wrote that Baker "engaged established anti-Semitic stereotypes."
As we have and have had, Israeli academics and students, it seems more than fair to ask Frangieh, who signed a petition calling for all Israeli academics and institutions to be boycotted, continues to support those views, given his associations and signed support of boycotts in the past.
Moving on, Omar Barghouti is a founding member of Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. Apparently, though, Barghouti doesn't practice what he preaches. After graduating from Columbia,he is a pursuing a Masters at Tel Aviv University. Despite a petition that got thousands of signatures to remove him as a student, Tel Aviv University actually refused to, citing his academic freedom and Israel's openness, but he turned around and criticized Tel Aviv University for not punishing him. Yes, really. Still he accuses Israel of perpetrating an "act of genocide" against Palestinians in Gaza.
Haim Bresheeth is an Israeli filmmaker who wants to boycott Israel. In one of the more crazy conspiracy theories I've read (at least this week), Bresheeth famously argued that "Zionists" were in league with the Nazis in a March 1989 a now-defunct magazine called Return.
Sound familiar? Frangieh himself once signed a petition that said that a "Zionist plot" was to blame for a U.S. Senate resolution that sought to partition Iraq into three autonomous regions. (I guess the Zionists are rather busy, huh?) This focus on "Zionist plots" is what anti-Semitic groups do the world over, but apparently, it's OK at Claremont.
Finally, my personal favorite (for sheer nuttiness) is Norman Finkelstein, who has been described by the Anti-Defamation League as an "obsessive anti-Zionist" filled with "vitriolic hatred of Zionism and Israel." He was actually banned from Israel for 10 years because of his ties with Hezbollah (there's that organization again!) In all seriousness, Finkelstein has argued that Hamas, which is committed to the destruction of Israel and the murder of its civilians, was on a "peace offensive" prior to the 2008 war.
So what does this have to do with Bassam Frangieh and Claremont McKenna? Well, if his defenders insist on claiming how many professors are on this list, I'd love to hear them defend the "well known" names on this petition. A man is known by the company he keeps and Bassam Frangieh certainly keeps interesting company when he signs petitions.
But does Claremont McKenna, one of America's best colleges, want to be known as a school that keeps company with a professor who signs these sorts of petitions?
We won't know until they release a statement. Will they?