Cinnamon Stillwell, the West Coast representative of the Middle East Forum's Campus Watch, was interviewed by Global Patriot Radio on September 14 to discuss the campaign she is spearheading to compel San Francisco State University to end its memorandum of understanding (MOU) with terrorism-promoting An-Najah University in the West Bank.
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Paul Sutliff: [Y]ou were talking about San Francisco State University in your article in, I believe it was, July?
Cinnamon Stillwell: That's right.
PS: What I wanted to ask, and I'd love for you to go into great detail on this: San Francisco State University now has a special deal going with another university and I think it's important that we understand what partnerships mean.
I have a problem with colleges who make these partnerships, or take these monies from organizations that are related to terrorism. Nazareth College of Rochester took $500,000 from the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT). Their head of the history department said, "Well, they don't do anything bad anymore," referring to a group that gave money to a terrorist entity related to al-Qaeda. That is what IIIT does. They have affiliations with al-Qaeda. They have affiliations with Hamas and yet, "They don't do anything bad anymore" is a good enough excuse to take money from them.
I was wondering if you could tell us about your story with San Francisco and how you are personally impacted by this?
CS: Well, sure. Jumping off-topic for a second, but speaking to what you just said about IIIT: they have very close ties to the field of Middle East studies and to other aspects of higher education, but largely Middle East studies, and I've written about them.
In 2014, the annual conference of MESA, the Middle East Studies Association of North America, hosted an IIIT reception at a nearby hotel. I wrote about that under the title "MESA and IIIT: Islamists Infiltrating Academia" and listed the extensive ties between the two. They endow chairs, they have summer programs where they bring in professors to speak and take part in their educational programs. As you may know, their motto—and they're very open about their stated goal—is the "Islamization of knowledge."
... the other organization that pops up all the time in connection with the field of Middle East studies is CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations. You probably know that both of these organizations were named in the 2007 Holy Land foundation trial, which you referenced at the beginning of your show in talking about the civilization jihad. It's so important to keep noting that.
"Organizations that we know are completely Islamist ... are falsely named as civil rights organizations."
So we have all of these organizations that we know are completely Islamist in their goals and their outlook, and yet they are falsely named as civil rights organizations for Muslims, or as simply supporting higher education and things like that. But obviously they are pushing their own goals throughout higher education, just as you get Saudi funding and funding from other Islamist countries, which does the same thing.
People think that these professors are created by these organizations and by the funding, like Saudi funding. I would say more that it is a matter of a meeting of minds and they are attracted to this type of funding and—obviously who wouldn't be, to money—they are of like minds and they are attracted to places where they can be either outright Islamists themselves (there are some professors we cover in that vein) or apologists for Islamism or Islamic terrorism.
So I don't think these professors were created. I think they were here, or from abroad and came here later, but they have found a very fertile soil and a lot of money in higher education, and especially in the Middle East studies field.
UC Berkeley's Islamophobia Research and Documentation Project is funded by the Council on America-Islamic Relations.
It's also what I mentioned: CAIR. They come up constantly. Every year—now this is back to my backyard at UC Berkeley—they have the Islamophobia Research and Documentation Project, which is headed up by UC Berkeley academic Hatem Bazian. They have an annual conference every year. We've covered just about every single one and CAIR is the co-sponsor every single year. You'll notice that most of these organizations are big on sponsoring conferences, professors, curriculum that have to do with promoting the idea that America is awash in Islamophobia and that Muslims are victimized, and it's obviously in their interests to do so and detract attention from the actual ills emanating from the Muslim world. So they really go hand in hand, these organizations and academia.
PS: It's scary how well they work together to get their message across and it's very, very subtle. It's never upfront: "Oh, this is our underlying purpose, what we want to do." It's always creeping in the backdoor like, "Hey, look! We've got all this money if you let us in the door! We'll bring all these funds in." It's just one of the ways they do it, but yeah, it's a lot of the time like you said: it's a meeting of the minds. They agree to a lot of the things beforehand.
Muhammad Shafiq, executive director of the Hickey Center for Interfaith Studies and Dialogue at Nazareth College.
In my case, out here in New York, it was simply Dr. Shafiq, Muhammad Shafiq, moved into Nazareth College. They hired him. He was already working with IIIT, he had published through them before and he simply convinced the president of a former Catholic college to get the funds that were available to them and we now have an endowed Islamic chair, basically for life, at our college.
CS: It'd be one thing if these chairs were actually putting out information and real scholarship and things we could actually use, but all too often, it's very biased and ultimately, there's an agenda attached.
PS: ... I do want to give you an opportunity to spend time talking about that story with San Francisco though. I think that's more important right now.
CS: Sure, I got off-topic myself. I'm a graduate of San Francisco State. I'm dating myself here a little bit, but I was there in the 90s and I had some early glimmers, although I was not aware of a lot of these issues. As you noted, 9/11 was my wakeup call, but I became aware of things that were going on earlier and one of the things I saw at San Francisco State at the time I was there was blatant anti-Semitism.
A mural at SFSU honors Edward Said.
There have been a series of very political murals that have been painted there, at the behest of student groups mostly. And infamously, there's an Edward Said mural that's there now that wasn't there at the time.
They were painting a Malcolm X mural and there was a big controversy around it because the original version of the painting, in the background, there happened to be stars of David and dollar signs dripping with blood, which was very subtle. There was, at least back then, a controversy about it and a professor who got very upset about it and opposed it. They ended up blasting the original mural and redoing it sans stars of David and dollar signs dripping blood and I don't think I fully grasped the enormity of it, but it got in there. It got in my brain and it was obviously uncomfortable, being Jewish myself. Years later, all of this came back to me. I also saw, years later, the bias against college Republicans and things like that. But what's going on now I've been following for quite a while in my time at Campus Watch.
There's a professor at San Francisco State University named Rabab Abdulhadi and she's the director of the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diaspora Initiative, which is a mouthful. It's part of ethnic studies and it's one of the first ethnic studies components devoted to Arab and Muslim studies, again, which, in and of itself, might be fine if it was legitimate work, but it's completely politicized, and she herself is an anti-Israel activist and an apologist for Palestinian terrorism. She's a founding member of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. She goes way back. In fact, she taught at Bir Zeit University at one point, in the West Bank. So I've written quite a bit about her.
Professor Rabab Abdulhadi has worked to forge "collaborative agreements" between San Francisco State University and two Palestinian universities.
In 2014, I discovered rumors that San Francisco State was forming a partnership, what's called a Memorandum of Understanding or an MOU, with An-Najah University, which is in the West Bank in Nablus, and I was quite disturbed by this. This is a university that Hamas has described as "a greenhouse for martyrs" and that has been well-known for a number of years. Certain scholars, like Matthew Levitt at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, have written quite a bit about An-Najah terrorism and has noted that it's known for the terrorist recruitment, indoctrination, and radicalization of students. We have written a series of articles and we started, at the same time, sending inquiries to the San Francisco State president Leslie Wong asking him to confirm this MOU and we were met with deafening silence. They just refused to respond to our inquiries over the course of many months, and there was no proof of the MOU. In fact, it remains that way, except for an indirect reference at the SFSU website.
"They just refused to respond to our inquiries over the course of many months."
It was kind of mysterious, so I kept writing about it whenever it would pop up. There were a couple of lectures that we covered and recorded in which Abdulhadi bragged about it. She was very happy to talk about it. Then it came to light to a lot of different people. In 2015, there was a reception for her academic unit, AMED. This was the first time that President Leslie Wong actually got up and talked about it and publicly admitted to the MOU, and he not only admitted to it, he talked about it in glowing terms and about what a wonderful thing it was to do and that he should have done it years ago. There's a—it's on YouTube—video of this reception.
At that point, we put it all together and basically had proof and pursued it further. We were able to receive a copy of the MOU through an organization that filed a California Public Records Act request, which is the California version of FOIA. So the MOU has been confirmed and at that point we decided to take action on this and really put the pressure on to see if we can get SFSU to stop this MOU, put an end to it. So we started a petition just last week at Change.org. The title is kind of a long one, but it's "End SFSU Cooperation with An-Najah. Universities Should Not Support Glorifying Terrorism." We got over 1,200 signatures in the first 48 hours and now we're up over 1,500. We've had some good media interest.
Click here to sign the petition.
If you go to the petition, we list a lot of different points of evidence, not only of actual terrorists that have been students at An-Najah and then perpetrated terrorist attacks, but events that honor terrorists, "martyred terrorists," all the time. There were at least two in 2016, but I'm sure there were more. This is just what we've documented. And the other thing that came to light in the articles I wrote—I wrote about three or four articles on this over the course of a couple years—is that she pledged to set up a student exchange program with An-Najah, a university out of which terrorism and terrorism glorification is a constant. So we feel that this is a significant security risk. They've also talked about there being faculty exchanges and I should note that some of the incidents that we've talked about, that have happened there, are not limited to students. There's also faculty going around making terrible statements.
PS: So you're telling us that these exchanges are taking place. Nazareth College has such an event where they had a bunch of exchange students from Afghanistan. Now, in the midst of this, three of them took off and, to this day, they only reported two of their names and they never told us anything about any of the other students, anything about what happened to them. They never put on paper if they found them, but what always got me was, I even tried filing a FOIA to try to information on the third person's name who was not revealed and I was told, "Unless you have state department clearance, I can't discuss any of this issue with you." I was told that by a sheriff's department. I couldn't even get a discussion going.
CS: Wow, yeah that's pretty damning right there, about that student. I mean you have to guess if they couldn't give you information . . . I should say, at San Francisco State, the exchange program has not been set up. It's just that Abdulhadi has expressed her interest and pledged to set one up on numerous occasions. In the MOU itself, they simply talk about faculty exchanges, campus visits, with the idea being that a student exchange program is something that they would develop over time. With her determination—you know she has been quite determined, with the support of Leslie Wong as well, to set this MOU up—I don't doubt that she would achieve that if she didn't meet any kind of opposition.
"[W]e were the first ones to put a petition out and to really put them on the spot about it."
There have been other organizations, like the AMCHA Initiative, that have written letters repeatedly expressing concerns about the MOU, but we were the first ones to put a petition out and to really put them on the spot about it. We're going to be rolling out a little more information on this very soon in a press release, but we're also urging the California State University system to investigate the MOU, and calling on the California State Legislature and the education committees in Congress to conduct hearings into the matter. We're going to keep pursuing it as far as we can—just really put the pressure on—and we hope to end the MOU.
PS: ... Just to be clear so everybody understands, when you're talking about Wong, that is the president of San Francisco State University, correct?
SFSU President Leslie Wong has come under criticism for failing to take sufficient action against anti-Israel hate groups on campus.
PS: That's correct. It's Leslie Wong, and he is a man. I've had people write to me and get mad at her [laughs], which I appreciate, so just to make it clear, I'm letting everybody know, in case they send any letters.
Another thing to make clear is that the West Bank is still controlled by the Palestinian Authority. If these universities were actually in Gaza, then I think you could pursue the line of thinking that you're talking about with Hamas.
That said, the Palestinian authority is no angel in this. They're accepted as an official organization, but many of the instances we've documented—and I have a much larger collection of extremism and terrorism—at An-Najah University involve Fatah, or the Palestinian Authority, and the glorification of their terrorism.
Recently, finally, there's been some attention on the world stage to the poisonous, anti-Semitic incitement in medieval blood libels and such that [Palestinian Authority President] Mahmoud Abbas engages in—at the UN, when he recently accused Israel of poisoning the water supply. So, finally, and recently, the State Department stopped denying that it was anti-Semitic, what they were putting out, and actually acknowledged that there was some incitement.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas claims to be a peacemaker.
So, simply, the Palestinian Authority isn't much better, frankly, in my view, than Hamas, and certainly in its cultural, if you could call it that, influence on these students. And it's also the divisions, which are pretty active right now—there are a lot of struggles going on over there—between Hamas-supporting students and PA-supporting students that have played out. What the trend has been is that the Hamas-supporting and affiliated students—there's a group called the Islamic Bloc at these universities that's Hamas-affiliated and it has been connected to numerous terrorist attacks going back to at least 2001 (I'm sure there were more before then)—they have been winning student elections.
It's to the point where, in fact, at An-Najah, they actually suspended their 2015 student elections indefinitely because they were afraid that the Hamas-supporting students were going to win. This was illegal and we know that the PA is not exactly democratic, but that said, they're trying to stave off the even-worse Islamists.
It's one of those cases where you're not really on either side, but in terms of the legality of it, the Palestinian Authority is still the officially accepted government there and despite the fact that they incite to terrorism all the time, they've not been labeled, as Hamas has, an actual terrorist group. So I think that's how they get under the radar here.
Supporters of Hamas and Fatah rally during the Najah University student council elections in 2006.
But you have a student body that is so highly supportive of Hamas. There's no separation in Palestinian universities between the wider society and its ideological and political currents and the university itself. Now, we have that here too. There's political groups on campus and that's fine, but in this case, where you have an entire society that revolves around so-called resistance, that is dedicated to constant warfare against Israel and to inculcating children from the time they're born into hating Jews and hating Israel and turning them into good little soldiers. We've all seen the clips of the television shows with the little kids holding knives and so on. It turns out that it goes from the time they first get in school and up through college. By the time they're in college, most of those students, those who are inclined in that direction, are completely indoctrinated and many of them actually get involved in terrorist attacks.
"The whole campus culture [at An-Najah University] has to do with glorifying terrorism."
The whole campus culture has to do with glorifying terrorism. There's a graduation ceremony where they have Hamas banners everywhere and students holding up three fingers to celebrate the kidnapping of the three Israeli teens. It's just everywhere and I don't think a lot of Americans understand. They think "Oh great, you have a partnership that's a wonderful cultural exchange with a Palestinian university." On the face of it, there should be nothing wrong with that, right? But when you have a culture that's completely seeped into the university and that is devoted to violence and hatred and incitement, that is a problem. We see it as a problem when American, Western, or frankly any university, in a country that does not want to be associated with Islamic terrorism, partners with one of these universities. It's a moral question and it's also a question of security, as we said, if there's a student exchange program set up. And there's a real arrogance there about it, so we want to finally put them [SFSU] on the mat about this.
PS: ... Have you had an actual response from the college itself?
CS: No, they have never responded to any of our inquiries. I think that reflects that arrogance and disregard for public opinion and for outside opinion in the appropriately named Ivory Tower, and we find that all the time at Campus Watch in response to our criticism and now to other organizations who criticize higher ed. They equate criticism with censorship. They hold themselves above any kind of accountability and I think there's a real bubble world, or arrogance, there.
Students for Justice in Palestine campaigners at the University of California-Davis last year.
There's a lot more pressure now and there's a lot more outside groups and there's a lot more outcry. And this also comes at the same time as student groups like SJP, Students for Justice in Palestine—and at San Francisco State you have GUPS, the General Union of Palestinian Students—they have become more and more violent and disruptive. They don't just protest outside of lectures when Israelis and other people lecture, they now disrupt them. So that's causing a little more outcry now. It turns out that our petition is well-timed because President Leslie Wong is under fire for the disruption in April. There was a talk by the Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat that was very violently disrupted and shouted down with cries of "Long live the Intifada!" and things like that, so there was a lot of outcry about that. There was an independent investigation and the findings just came out and he himself admitted that he "failed our students" and that our "inaction" led to this.
PS: ... So "Long live the Intifada!" is not something that the average Jewish person should be afraid of listening to. Mrs. Stillwell, do you agree with that?
CS: No, I don't. [Laughs] No, you called it. There are so many holes in that report on the investigation and so many things missing. The fact that GUPS said that they actually feel "vindicated" by the report and they doubled down on their usual rhetoric, calling him in a statement that they put out—Barkat, a Jerusalem mayor, mind you— a "hate-monger," and that the real crime was bringing him to campus.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat (center) inaugurates a new post office in the Arab Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiyeh in January 2011.
So there's so many problems with that investigation. If you know the background information, one of the real problems for us is that—we're still pressing him to respond with this petition—it's clear that President Wong is himself a partisan. At that reception I told you about, in April 2015, he talked about the MOU and was completely unabashed about his glowing feelings, and he talked about a trip. He said, "When I returned from Palestine two years ago," and this is kind of a mysterious trip. We know that Abdulhadi went there on a university sponsored trip, which was largely to set up the MOU, by the way, in 2014. We don't know about his trip, but he referenced it himself and he said, "I want to be one of the first universities to sign an agreement with An-Najah" and he said he was "anticipating criticism" about it, but he believed firmly that, not only was it the right thing to do, but that he should have done it "fifty years ago." He talked about how pleased he was to have "attracted a group of radicals around me so that when I propose ideas that shake the academic community, they say, 'We're right behind you'." I think here he's referring largely to Abdulhadi and their partnership. And then he praised GUPS—getting back to the Barkat disruption. He called them "an inspiration for me" and "the very purpose of this great university."
So even though he is taking on the role of objective university president here and trying to act like he's being responsible with the investigation, it's on record that he himself is a partisan in this conflict and is very supportive of that student organization that is running around acting like thugs, disrupting events, and making anti-Semitic statements. So in my view, he has very little credibility. And yet, at the same time, he should still be pressed to act on these things in his capacity as president.
PS: Cinnamon, I have a question for you. A [caller] in the chatroom has mentioned the concept of Palestine houses on campuses. Are you encountering that on the West Coast?
CS: I haven't really run into that, to be honest. I can take a good guess at what that's about, but I haven't. Are we talking about something similar to Hillel?
PS: I know she's from Canada.
CS: Oh, okay. The situation up in Canada can sometimes be actually even worse. For instance, I know that York University is a bad one. But I will have to start looking into that. I'm guessing that they're trying to make some kind of equivalent to Hillel there, but I will have to look into that. We don't focus on student groups at Campus Watch, but you do get these academics and sometimes administrators who, in their own way, work hand-in-hand with these student groups and tacitly support their bad behavior, and I think this is one of those cases.
You might have heard about the other local story that's been in the news lately from my neck of the woods—at UC Berkeley, the academic we talked about, Hatem Bazian, who is one of the cofounders of SJP and American Muslims for Palestine and has been affiliated with Kindhearts charity—going back to that 2007 Holy Land foundation trial—he has a long history as a big backer of BDS, of boycotting Israel, and as an anti-Israel activist, and, in some of his writing, a pro-Islamist activist too. You might have heard of him.
PS: Yes, from the little bit of research I had, when Hatem Bazian was a student, there were some indicators that when he was a student, he had some connections to Hamas. Whether they were direct, there was more speculation than any direct correlations, but it sounded like there were some direct connections from what I had looked at.
I did want to go a slight other direction, simply because you mentioned something very important which I actually discussed on my last show, which was the influence in textbooks. ... Could you tell us a little bit more about the influence on textbooks?
CS: Well, I found in that Middle East studies, professors intersect with textbooks and curriculum for K-12 education in a couple of different ways. One is that they often serve in a capacity for approving material for textbooks. We know that there's so many problems with this material and it's not just biased, but that so much of it is untrue, and the whitewashing, especially when it comes to Islamic history, and not-so-subtle putdowns of Christians and Jews. So they help approve textbooks and they also set up teacher training programs and provide curriculum. That's becoming more and more of a problem and we want to devote a little more attention to that.
John Esposito, head of Georgetown's Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.
One place that does that is Georgetown's Saudi-funded Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, which is anything but its title. If you go to their website, they have a teacher training program and they provide all kinds of materials. It's very attractive to the teachers that are underfunded or where the money is not trickling down to the classrooms. They have these cushy centers that provide all kinds of materials. There's also a couple of organizations out there—there's one called the Palestine Teaching Trunk, I believe it is—that provide these trunks of material. I think they're up in Washington state.
This is happening all over and this curriculum is obviously completely biased, and then sometimes they provide speakers. We've had all kinds of inappropriate situations with speakers and even little field trips where there's a blurring of the lines between teaching about religion and actually proselytizing. And we don't hear enough from the ACLU on that, although they did jump in once in Minneapolis. So that's how the field worms its way in on that one. They're the gatekeepers, in part, for some of the textbooks and provide curriculum and training to teachers. So you have a case of the fox in the henhouse.
PS: Actually, one of my articles is labeled that. [ Laughs] Again, I am a special education social studies teacher and I look at these things. When you start changing history to make your view look correct, I think that is a huge danger for Americans as a whole. I want to thank you and thank everybody for listening. Thank you, Mrs. Stillwell. [ chuckles] We're down to the end of the hour so I'm going to say thank you to all the people in the chatroom and announce who we are. Thank you! You've been a great guest and I hope someday to have you back to spend more time learning from you as well. Thank you, Mrs. Stillwell!
CS: Thank you! I know it's been great. We could do this for another hour, I'm sure.
PS: Yeah, I've been asked to do a two-hour show and I'm chickening out until I get a little bit more confidence. This is only my second show. You are my first guest. I'm so thankful that you say that. Thank you.
CS: I'm honored! Thank you for having me.
PS: Alright, you have a nice evening, thank you again for calling.
CS: Thank you!