Professor Andew Pessin is a Professor of Philosophy at Connecticut College. He studied at Yale and earned a PhD at Columbia University. He is the author of five books, including most recently Uncommon Sense: The Strangest Ideas From The Smartest Philosophers. He is also friendly to the Jewish State of Israel and in opposition to political Islam for reasons having to do with social justice and human rights.
Professor Rabab Abdulhadi is an Associate Professor of Race and Resistance Studies at the College of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University. She studied at Yale and earned a PhD from that university. She is the author of many papers and a contributor and co-editor to the recent Arab and Arab American Feminisms: Gender, Violence, and Belonging (Gender, Culture, and Politics in the Middle East). She is also unfriendly to the Jewish State of Israel and highly critical of Zionism for reasons having to do with social justice and human rights.
Both of these professors are sometimes thought of as controversial for reasons concerning the Arab-Israel conflict - although one is more the political activist than the other - and both were recently involved in difficulties within their respective universities over that conflict.
The difference is that while SFSU stood behind Professor Abdulhadi, Connecticut College was far less supportive of Professor Pessin.
The question is "why?"
Understanding the answer to that question depends upon not only understanding the specific differences between the two controversies, but also the ideological atmosphere within American academia concerning the Arab-Israel conflict.
The short answer is that Abdulhadi is highly critical of Israel during a period of rising anti-Semitic anti-Zionism in the West and, therefore - given this political moment - receives financial and moral backing in the academe.
Pessin, on the other hand, is highly critical of Hamas, an organization that calls specifically for the genocide of the Jewish people and he is, therefore, reviled as a "racist."
Let's dig into the specifics.
Professor Andrew Pessin
On August 11, 2014, during the midst of the Israeli military push-back, Operation Protective Edge, Pessin posted the following on his Facebook page as part of a larger discussion concerning Hamas and the other genocidally-inclined rocketeers in Gaza who had been giving little Israeli kids post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) over the course of the preceding years.
Pessin compared Hamas to a "rabid pit bull chained in a cage."
For this he was excoriated as a racist not only by hard-left students in organizations like Students for Justice in Palestine, but also by faculty.
The fact of the matter is that Pessin was referring to Hamas and other such violent Islamist organizations operating within Gaza.
The ironic thing is that it is not he who is conflating all Gazans with terrorists, but his allegedly "anti-racist" detractors who are doing so.
Pessin's Facebook page, above, needs to be understood within the larger conversation.
He was not referring to Palestinian-Arabs, nor Gazans, in general. He was speaking quite specifically about the kinds of Islamists who call directly for the genocide of the Jews, as Hamas does in its charter, a document that is not quoted nearly enough, but reads in part:
Our struggle against the Jews is very great and very serious. It needs all sincere efforts. It is a step that inevitably should be followed by other steps. The Movement is but one squadron that should be supported by more and more squadrons from this vast Arab and Islamic world, until the enemy is vanquished and Allah's victory is realised.
As David Bernstein writes in the Washington Post:
I have seen his previous Facebook posts on the Gaza war last Summer, and they are full of criticism of Hamas, and don't say anything nasty about Palestinians more generally, suggesting that he was, in fact, referring to Hamas.
I have seen those Facebook posts, as well, and concur.
Professor Rabab Abdulhadi
Professor Abdulhadi's circumstances are a tad different and I have previously written about her and my disappointment with San Francisco State University.
Abdulhadi was the faculty adviser to the General Union of Palestine Students (GUPS) at a time when the SFSU president of that organization, Mohammed G. Hammad, took to social media in order to threaten violence against Jews.
As he held aloft blade in a "selfie," this is what he wrote:
I'm sitting here looking through pictures of that f—ing scum (name removed to protect the soldier) ... Anyone who thinks there can be peace with animals like this is absolutely delusional, and the only 'peace' I'm interested in is the head of this f—ing scum on a plate, as well as the heads of all others like her, and all others who support the IDF. The Liberation of Palestine can only come through the destruction and decimation of this Israeli plague and it can't possibly come soon enough.
It is not Abdulhadi's fault, of course, that some of her students want to kill Jews for political reasons.
She just happened to be standing nearby.
She was also the adviser to GUPS during the celebration of a mural to the late anti-Semitic professor, Edward Said, on that campus, wherein members of GUPS, and other student organizations, held aloft signs reading, "My heroes have always killed colonizers."
Just who these "colonizers" in need of killing are is speculative, but I feel reasonably certain that when students associated with the General Union of Palestine Students hold up little signs calling for the murder of "colonizers" that they are not referring to the Amish.
How Connecticut College Responded to Pessin:
Pessin, as a consequence of opposing Hamas, was subject to a campaign of defamation that became international. He was initially condemned as a "racist" or "Islamophobe" by a former student, Lamiya Khandaker who previously founded a branch of Students for Justice in Palestine at Brooklyn Technical High School and is quoted as saying:
I truly believe that if more American citizens gain more knowledge on this conflict, then we can pressure our government to do something, and if necessary, break our bond with Israel.
Break our bond with Israel.
Other students, following Khandaker's lead, wrote into the school newspaper that "Professor Pessin directly condoned the extermination of a people. A member of our community has called for the systematic abuse, killing, and hate of another people." As David Bernstein notes, writing in the Washington Post, such a charge is probably libelous. If that is the case, it would also be actionable.
Pessin, however, probably just hoping that the non-controversy would go away so that he could do his actual work in peace, made the mistake of apologizing.
Bernstein tells us:
The result was an international controversy that included threats against Pessin and his family, knee-jerk reactions from academic departments throughout Connecticut College denouncing their colleague's purported racism, denunciation without investigation by the usual suspects in the world of academic philosophy, and a school-sponsored "community conversation on free speech, equity and inclusion" that was so "inclusive" that the two Jewish students who spoke who criticized the Pessin witchhunt were, depending on the account, either booed or at least "met with derision."
The Connecticut College history department, not wishing to be outdone by its own students, put out this note as a rebuke to Pessin, which reads in part:
To the Campus Community,
The history department would like to clearly state that we condemn speech filled with bigotry and hate particularly when that speech uses dehumanizing language and incites or celebrates violence and brutality. In response to the many events that transpired on campus prior to and during spring break regarding a Facebook post by a member of our faculty, we join the CCSRE in condemning hate speech.
How SFSU Responded to Abdulhadi:
While many people in the local Jewish community in California, most notably Tammi Benjamin of the AMCHA Initiative and "Dusty" at Pro-Israel Bay Bloggers objected to this outrageous behavior of students under Abdulhadi's authority or tutelage, the university was largely indifferent to such concerns. Even Professor Fred Astren, the head of the Jewish Studies Department, could not rouse himself to condemn much of this in a public manner, although one presumes that he spoke up behind the scenes.
SFSU, nonetheless, funded a trip for Abdulhadi and a few select students to travel to the "Occupied Palestinian Territories" in order to meet with terrorist plane hijacker, Leila Khaled. This visit was not merely an academic exercise for purposes of research. It was a political trip among student activists with a professor who has a serious bone to pick with the Jewish people in the Middle East and who is not the least bit shy about buddying-up with violently inclined racists like Khaled.
In fact, SFSU even went so far as to reward Abdulhadi by agreeing to partner with An-Najah National University in Nablus which is probably the most anti-Israel / anti-Jewish university on the entire planet. It was students at An-Najah National University in Nablus which is probably the most anti-Israel / anti-Jewish university on the entire planet. It was students at An-Najah who put together a "grotesque shrine" in celebration of the Sbarro pizza parlor massacre and which the Anti-Defamation League has referred to as a "greenhouse for martyrs."
Abdulhadi, in gratitude to the university, wrote this:
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. Thank you Mira Nabulsi for your amazing help in writing and producing the proposal. Thank you Dean Kenneth Monteiro and the College of Ethnic Studies for your consistent and unwavering support.
At The End of the Day
The essential point is that San Francisco State University is standing behind a professor that normalizes terrorism and, ultimately, hatred toward Jews. Connecticut College, on the other hand, both students and faculty, harassed a Jewish professor who opposes anti-Semitism and the spreading of political Islam.
The reason for this is not because of anything peculiar about either institution.
The real problem is not San Francisco State University, nor Connecticut College. The problem is a rising atmosphere of hatred toward the Jewish State of Israel and, thus inevitably, toward the Jewish people, themselves, not only in Europe, but increasingly within the United States.
What we are witnessing, and what these two cases illustrate, is not merely a new phase of Jewish and Israeli relations to western academia and to western culture and civilization. It is, in fact, a new phase in what it means to be "liberal" in the West today.
The western-left is passing down the toilet the very values of social justice and universal human rights that it claims to ground itself within.
The sympathies of western academia will go wherever the combined sensibilities of the professors and the students take it, but when it favors Hamas over the Jews in that part of the world it has forfeited any right to be considered "liberal."
By accepting political Islam it has also betrayed women in the Middle East, Gay people in the Middle East, and Christians in that part of the world. It even has betrayed Muslims in the Middle East to the extent that Muslims are the primary victims of political Islam.
This little story of two professors in the Age of Obama is a story bigger than San Francisco State University and Connecticut College.
It encapsulates a moment of shifting political sands in which the very notion of universal human rights and social justice are being thrown aside in favor of a failing multicultural ideal.
Michael Lumish is a PhD in American history from the Pennsylvania State University and has taught at PSU, San Francisco State University, and the City College of San Francisco.