When Spanish Prime Minister José Louis Rodríguez Zapatero posed for a photograph with a Palestinian kaffiyeh around his neck earlier this year, he inadvertently gave expression to the contempt that many European leaders have for Israel. Similarly, last week’s decision by University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann to take a photograph with a student dressed as a suicide bomber at her Halloween party offered some clues as to why college campuses are such fertile ground for anti-Semitism.
While there is no evidence that the Jewish Gutmann is anti-Israel, it is clear that she felt comfortable enough to smile for a picture alongside Syrian-born engineering student Saad Saadi, as he donned a terrorist's garb. Saadi can be seen in the photograph with a kaffiyeh around his head, a toy Kalashnikov rifle in his hand and six plastic sticks of dynamite strapped to his chest.
Such accessorizing is conspicuous, to say the least. Yet Gutmann initially explained in a statement released by her office that the photograph was taken "before it was obvious to me that he was dressed as a suicide bomber." This contrasts markedly with Saadi’s recollection of the evening. The student told the campus newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanian, that Gutmann "did not seem to take his costume too seriously." When he approached her to take the photograph, she jokingly asked, “How did they let you through security?" Only after a relentless barrage of criticism did Gutmann finally apologize for the incident, admitting in a message on the college’s website that “the photograph is embarrassing for the university and me alike." Gutmann also made it unambiguously clear that she does not support terrorism: “I abhor terrorism, suicide bombers and everything they do. My record is unabashedly clear on this point."
Apologies after the fact are small consolation to Israeli Jews who are the primary targets of Islamic terrorists. Nor will Gutmann’s belated contrition dispel the suspicion that American universities have become hostile to Israel. Indeed, the fact that these photographs were taken at the home of a university president is not surprising. College administrators across the country are notorious for forgetting their intolerance of hate speech when the targets are Jews and Israel.
Consider the case of Wayne State University (WSU) in Michigan. Many of the 500-plus Jewish students at the college report feeling intimidated among the Muslim and Arab students and Palestinian sympathizers who regularly demonize Israel. According to Students for Israel President Ari Drissman, “The campaign to delegitimize Israel is notable for its early and organized intensity, the likes of which have not been seen on the campus for years.”
Thus, students arriving to campus in September were welcomed with flyers proclaiming "Israel = White Supremacy" and "Why Christians Should Pray and Struggle for the Liberation of Palestine." The Anti-Racist Action group, which is not an official WSU student organization, not only published the flyers but also organized an October 12 rally urging the university to initiate a divestment campaign against Israel. A day earlier Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University who believes that anti-Israel violence contributes to “political enlightenment,” spoke at the behest of the Detroit Council for World Affairs, an arm of the WSU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences' Center for Peace & Conflict Studies. That a pro-Israel speaker was not invited to debate this apologist for the late Yasser Arafat shows that the Center for Peace & Conflict Studies is less concerned with conflict resolution than portraying Israel in a negative light. Campus administrators, however, seem to be unaware (or unconcerned) that Israel advocacy organizations such as StandWithUs describe the campus climate as untenable for Jewish students.
It has not helped the university’s case that it may soon become the next home of Wadie Said, the son of the late Edward Said and an apologist for terrorism in his own right. Wadie Said has already gone through the interview process for a faculty position at the WSU Law School. During this campus student interview, Said said that “armed resistance” has a “legitimate basis” in international law and that the WSU should change its position against divestment. Said also served as a defense attorney in the trial of Palestine Islamic Jihad operative Sami Al-Arian.
StandWithUs expressed concerns about Said’s possible appointment in a letter to the University administration and Board of Governors because of its potential to “exacerbate the potentially flammable atmosphere on the WSU campus.” The organization is still awaiting a response. But the letter, which included quotes from the recommendations issued by the US Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) in its special report on anti-Semitism and anti-Israel activities on American campuses, surely warrants recognition.
One university that that the USCCR has focused a great deal of attention on is UC Irvine (UCI), the first American college to be the subject of an anti-Semitism probe by the U.S. Office for Civil Rights. In its own report, the USCCR concluded that UCI must protect Jewish students from harassment and intimidation. Some examples of anti-Semitism at UCI in recent years include the 2003 destruction of a Holocaust memorial; the carving of a swastika into a table during a Holocaust candlelight vigil; a 2002 publication of an article in a student publication that “repeatedly emphasized the Nazi-like notion that Jews are genetically different and separate from non-Jews;" nd the regular appearance of anti-Semitic speakers on campus. One such speaker is the terrorist supporter Amir Abdel Malik Ali, who once gave the following message to the Jews at UCI: “Your days are numbered.”
The invited guest speakers of UCI’s radical Muslim Student Union sometimes include UCI administrators. Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Manuel Gomez once spoke at an event sponsored by the MSU, where the only student organizations that were dis-invited were Jewish. Gomez has never issued a public apology for his decision.
It is against this background that Amy Gutmann’s controversial photo-op should be seen. The unfortunate truth is that many college administrators and professors emphatically believe in a multicultural dogma that makes it all too easy to justify Islamic terrorism. For example, the popular (at least in “peace studies” classes) text Peace and Conflict Studies by Professors David Barash and Charles Webel teaches students:
Placing "terrorist" in quotation marks may be jarring for some readers, who consider the designation self-evident. We do so, however, not to minimize the horror of such acts but to emphasize the value of qualifying righteous indignation by the recognition that often one person’s "terrorist" is another’s "freedom fighter."
A similar tolerance for extremism may explain why Gutmann saw nothing wrong in posing with a Halloween suicide bomber. After all, the costumed student may have considered himself terrorist, or, as he originally described it on his website, a “freedom fighter.” One wonders where he got that idea.
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