"When college students graduate, they'll be hit with reality." For years, we've been hearing that radicalism is unsustainable in the real world. Yet, as evidenced by recent student-led protests sweeping the nation, it seems as though reality is merely bending to their whim. These students, some of whom defend rioting, looting, and even parade the streets chanting "Death to America," did not radicalize overnight.
Campus radicalism is often attributed to a small contingent of students who bully those they deem guilty of nonconformance, fringe ideologies thrust upon students by their professors, and university administrations enabling – even encouraging – these ideas.
Two cases currently making headlines embody all of the above, and reignite the longstanding question: "What exactly are they teaching at these schools?"
In late August 2020, Harvard University announced that Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat will serve as a fellow at The Future of Diplomacy Project at the Kennedy School's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. In a world characterized by increasing diplomatic cooperation between countries of all different stripes, Harvard could have found someone better.
Since partaking in every peace negotiation with Israel since the Madrid Conference of 1991, Erekat has demonstrated a remarkable ability to adversely affect the Palestinian cause and has contributed to the Palestinians' increasing isolation from much of the Arab world.
That alone should not disqualify him. Rather, it's that he consistently deceives, inverts history, and most significantly, justifies terrorism. Erekat has long peddled the lie that the Israeli military perpetrated a massacre in Jenin in 2002, and he refuses to label Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) as terrorist organizations. In 2015, in the midst of a brutal wave of Palestinian stabbing attacks that led to dozens of Israeli deaths, Erekat dismissed the killings, stating that "the Palestinian people will continue to defend themselves." A diplomat like Erekat who conflates terrorism with self-defense is the antithesis of what diplomacy should be. Unless, of course, Harvard thinks differently -- or has other motivations. The university's decision to grant Erekat this position came after the Palestinian Authority donated $2 million to Harvard between 2017 and 2019.
It would be easy to characterize a terror-apologist as a radical, in the same way that one could characterize a white-supremacy apologist as a radical. Yet for some reason, Erekat has now been mainstreamed by what is arguably the most renowned academic institution on the planet.
The second case is that of Leila Khaled – a member of the PFLP – who will be featured as the centerpiece of an upcoming online event sponsored by the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diaspora Studies Department at San Francisco State University (SFSU).
The PFLP is a U.S.-designated terror group that repeatedly attacked Israel during the 1960s and 1970s, claiming the lives of numerous innocent people, including Americans. In 1972, members of the Japanese Red Army recruited by the PFLP murdered 26 people at the Lod Airport in Israel, 17 of whom were Christian pilgrims from Puerto Rico. Although less prominent than in the past, the group continues to engage in terrorism. In 2019, a PFLP cell detonated a roadside bomb, killing 17-year-old Rina Shnerb.
Khaled herself gained notoriety for her participation in two hijackings of civilian flights, becoming the first female airplane hijacker. Nowadays, she is recognized by students who often see her likeness adorned on t-shirts and other memorabilia sold at events organized by antisemitic groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine. On the upcoming San Francisco conference's Facebook page, Khaled is described as a "feminist, militant, and leader." That's an interesting euphemism for terrorist, and one incredibly insulting to feminists everywhere. But such language is unsurprising coming from the same department helmed by professor Rabab Abdulhadi, who has stated that welcoming pro-Israel students on campus is "a declaration of war against Arabs, Muslims, Palestinians and all those who are committed to an indivisible sense of justice on and off campus."
Despite Harvard hiring a terror apologist, and in the case of SFSU – hosting an actual terrorist – nary a peep of protest was uttered by students, aside from Jewish and Zionist groups on campus, including the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA). This is extremely troubling. But it seems to be the rule and not the exception.
Over the past year alone: Batya Ungar-Sargon of The Forward faced harsh protest at Bard College simply for being Jewish; Yoni Michanie, a CAMERA campus adviser,was protested at the University of Florida on the basis of his previous service in the Israel Defense Forces; Israeli LGBTQ activist Hen Mazzig was protested at Vassar College for the sin of highlighting Israel's record on LGBTQ rights. Make no mistake – everybody has the right to peacefully protest. But it speaks volumes when speakers like these are protested, yet many students seem unconcerned when a convicted terrorist graces their campus.
Likewise, it says a lot about the current ideological climate when professor Miriam Elman is harassed by students at Syracuse University for identifying with Zionism – the movement for Jewish self-determination – yet Erekat's sympathetic view of Palestinian terrorism has generated little pushback from Harvard faculty and students.
So, what exactly are they teaching students at American universities? If Harvard and SFSU are any indication, the answer is bigotry, historical amnesia, a pathological aversion to facts, and an embrace of violence. When figures like Erekat and Khaled are invited to campus, the administrations send a message to students everywhere that not even terrorism is out of bounds -- that these ideas are legitimate.
The radicals have taken root on our campuses, but it's not too late for us to tear those roots from the ground. Let's start by demanding that Harvard and SFSU rescind their shameful invitations.