A Mideast war rages on the campuses of universities across the U.S. as pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel student groups, professors and activists clash in a microcosmic intifada.
Battle lines have already been drawn at the University of Michigan as that school prepares to host a national student conference on the "Palestine Solidarity Movement" this weekend. Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, or SAFE, is the registered student sponsor of the conference. According to its website, SAFE is a "diverse group of students, activists, and community members organized to promote justice, human rights, liberation and self-determination for the Palestinian people."
The group "condemns the racism and discrimination inherent in Zionism" and outlines its mission statement for the conference as promoting "divestment from Israel, ending U.S. aid to Israel and right of return." The website expresses tacit support for terrorism by stating, "As a solidarity movement, it is not our place to dictate the strategies or tactics adopted by the Palestinian people in their struggle for liberation." It further lists suggested "tactics" for conference attendees that include "education, public demonstrations and rallies" and "civil disobedience or direct action."
Among the panelists scheduled to speak at the conference is Sami Al-Arian, a tenured professor recently suspended by the University of South Florida amid a federal investigation into his suspected association with terrorist organizations. USF is suing for the right to terminate Al-Arian, claiming it can prove that he has maintained ties to terrorists for 14 years that have seriously damaged USF.
"After all I have seen and heard, I believe that Dr. Al-Arian has abused his position at the university and is using academic freedom as a shield to cover improper activities," USF President Judy Genshaft said in announcing the lawsuit in August.
In the lawsuit, USF accuses Al-Arian of raising money for terrorist groups, bringing terrorists into the United States and founding organizations that supported terrorism. The allegations mirror those of former federal prosecutor John Loftus, who sued Al-Arian under the Florida Consumer Protection Act, claiming Al-Arian used state-regulated charities to solicit and launder money from the Saudi government which he then funneled to al-Qaida, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Loftus' complaint cites specific testimony and highly classified documents. On his website, Loftus streams video clips of tapes seized by the FBI from Al-Arian's home in which he proclaims "Death to Israel" and "Let us damn America."
Al-Arian has repeatedly denied being a terrorist or advocating violence and blames the media in general, and Fox News Channel host and WorldNetDaily columnist Bill O'Reilly specifically, for fueling post-Sept. 11 anti-Muslim rhetoric.
Word of the Palestine Solidarity Movement conference created an uproar among pro-Israel groups, who called the event "dangerous" and pressed the university to cancel it.
"The concept that Zionism is racism is used as an excuse to defend the barbaric Palestinian terrorist attacks against Israel – and therefore this conference itself promotes terrorism. The University becomes an accomplice by facilitating it," wrote the National Unity Coalition for Israel in a letter to university President Mary Sue Coleman. "Our government has cautioned us against making defamatory statements against Muslims. Yet the very people to whom we are being sensitive are holding a conference promoting racism and defaming Zionism," the coalition added.
The university responded to the pressure in a rebuttal posted on its website explaining it would be "unlawful" to screen or censor student group-sponsored events.
"It is one of the fundamental goals of the university to create an environment where a wide range of ideas – whether popular or controversial – can be freely explored," communications personnel stated on the website.
Coleman released a statement emphasizing that "the agenda of the conference represents the views of the organizers and not the University of Michigan" and declaring she does not support divestment of university stock in companies doing business in Israel.
With the conference set to go ahead, pro-Israel student groups and organizations have mobilized and plan to stage a "silent protest" at the university. StandWithUs.com, an international group of pro-Israel activists, is adding reinforcements.
As WorldNetDaily reported, StandWithUs organized a boycott of the Los Angeles Times earlier this year over perceived anti-Israel coverage of the Mideast conflict. Now the group has shifted its focus to combating "pervasive" anti-Semitism on campus.
"Campuses have become the new battleground. ... Our children are the future of the world," StandWithUs vice president Allyson Rowen Taylor told WorldNetDaily.
Prompted by pleas from pro-Israel student groups, StandWithUs has launched a website through which it distributes a 16-page handbook on the history of the Mideast situation, as well as sample flyers and signs for use in student rallies, such as the one planned to protest the conference. The group has distributed 100,000 flyers free of charge and is looking for funding to do a second printing.
"Anti-Semitism has become politically correct," said Taylor. "It happened in World War II and now, again, it's OK to say on campus what used to only be said behind closed doors, and that's really scary," she continued.
Taylor referred to the increasing occurrences of violence at anti-Israel protests on campus and the comparison of Israel to Nazi Germany or apartheid South Africa.
Last month, former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was prevented from giving an address at Concordia University in Montreal after anti-Israel demonstrators staged a mini-riot, throwing furniture and other objects, smashing windows and assaulting a professor. The protest was strikingly similar to an incident that canceled Netanyahu's speaking engagement scheduled at the University of California at Berkeley two years ago.
As WorldNetDaily reported, Harvard University President Lawrence Summers has publicly taken issue with the rising tide of anti-Semitism around the world, in the U.S. and in academia. Last month, Summers shared his concerns over the issue and lashed out at the movement to force universities to divest their holdings in Israel – similar to the effort against South Africa's apartheid government in the 1980s.
"Where anti-Semitism and views that are profoundly anti-Israeli have traditionally been the primary preserve of poorly educated right-wing populists, profoundly anti-Israel views are increasingly finding support in progressive intellectual communities," he said. "Serious and thoughtful people are advocating and taking actions that are anti-Semitic in their effect if not their intent."
On the heels of Summers' stand against anti-Semitism, the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum launched a website to monitor professors and universities for anti-Israel bias. Campus Watch maintains that Middle East Studies in the United States has become "the preserve of Middle Eastern Arabs" who are actively hostile to America's interests in the world. Forum director Daniel Pipes quotes Abigail Thernstrom in describing Middle East Studies as "an island of repression in a sea of freedom."
In a recent New York Post column, Pipes contrasts the violence that greeted Netanyahu with the interference-free speaking engagement of Hanan Ashrawi, the former spokeswoman and colleague of Yasser Arafat, who delivered the keynote address at a symposium dubbed "September 11: One Year Later" at Colorado College in Colorado Springs.
In addition to shining a spotlight on the intolerance of alternative views, the website also takes apologists to task, stating: "There may be a war on terrorism underway, but the scholars downplay the dangers posed by militant Islam, seeing it as a benign and even democratizing force. Scholarly offerings frequently present in a benign light such hostile actors as the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Syrian Ba'th regime and other Middle East despotisms. In contrast, they emphasize and often exaggerate the faults of Israel, Turkey, Egypt and Kuwait."
Campus Watch names 21 institutions and eight professors that "fan the flames of disinformation, incitement and ignorance." Professors listed teach at universities like Stanford, Northwestern, Columbia, Georgetown and University of San Francisco, and made names for themselves by blaming "American imperialism" for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The website contains short biographies of the professors, reprints of their writings and articles written about them. A "Keep Us Informed" page solicits recommendations from the public.
Critics assail Campus Watch as being "McCarthy-like." Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations calls Campus Watch a "blacklist."
"Any time you take these actions designed to chill academic freedom, we all lose, whatever our views on the Middle East are. I can only imagine what would happen if the shoe were on the other foot and Muslim Americans were calling for students to report pro-Israeli professors," the Washington Times quotes Hooper as saying.
Campus Watch supporters respond that the vitriol leveled at the website is indicative of the intensity of the ongoing collegiate intifada, and the need for greater resistance on the part of students, professors and activists.
"We should also recall that academic freedom does not include freedom from criticism," reminds Summers. "The only antidote to dangerous ideas is strong alternatives vigorously advocated."