Wayne State & Wadie Said

, Roberta Seidand, 1 Comment

StandWithUs recently learned from Jewish students at Wayne State that anti-Israel hostility has escalated on campus, and that the University may appoint Wadie Said, known for his anti-Israel views, to the law school faculty. We apprised the University of our concerns.

On American campuses, some student organizations and professors have crossed the line from reasonable debate about the Arab-Israeli conflict to demonizing the Jewish State and Zionism itself. In these cases, some professors exploit their positions to indoctrinate students, and flawed scholarship is used to defame Israel and Israel’s supporters. When this occurs, many pro-Israel students feel concerned and even harassed by the open prejudice against their views and identity.

We are disturbed to see these developments on many American campuses and especially at Wayne where Jewish students and faculty have always enriched University life and where alumni continue to be generously involved.

We are deeply committed to academic freedom and independence. Yet non-academics also have a right and an obligation to speak up, as UCLA Professor Judea Pearl, father of slain journalist Daniel Pearl, underscored recently:

However, academic freedom also entails the freedom of students to expose racism when they spot it.

Moreover, this country also prides itself on the ‘public right to know.’ This means that student applicants have the right to know what kind of campus environment they are getting themselves into, parents have the right to know what kind of education their children will be getting, and donors and taxpayers have the right to know what kind of academic environment is being created with their money.”

When criticism of Israel mutates into demonization of the Jewish State, it becomes a dangerous form of racism that often employs classical anti-Semitic stereotypes. As Professor Pearl noted, “Official campus channels fail to inform the public of cases of anti-Zionist indoctrination, for those are disguised as inoculate expressions of ‘just another political opinion. They are not!….Anti-Zionism is a form of racism; it is a more dangerous form than classical anti-Semitism.” The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights made a similar point last April: “Anti-Semitic bigotry is no less morally deplorable when camouflaged as anti-Israelism or anti-Zionism.”

Universities have a responsibility to ensure that professors teach, not preach, and that they uphold high standards of sound scholarship and academic integrity. They also have a responsibility to make the University a civil environment for all minority students, whether they are gay, black, Muslim—or Jewish. Recognizing the growing anti-Israel trends on campuses, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights reiterated the protections guaranteed to Jewish students under Title VI, the federal anti-discrimination statute, and underscored that universities have a responsibility to safeguard students against ‘actions that could engender a hostile environment’ in violation of federal law.”

Yet this fall, returning Wayne students saw flyers, sidewalk chalkings and speakers vilifying Israel, with some calling for Israel’s destruction, and efforts to revive the hostile “divest from Israel” campaign. Tova Shreiber, a Wayne undergrad, was so disturbed by the audience hostility when a pro-Israel speaker came to campus that she wrote an op ed in the student paper entitled: “Racism: Alive and Well at Wayne State University.”

These disturbing developments gave rise to our concerns about Wadie Said’s possible appointment to the law school faculty. He has limited credentials and experience compared to candidates usually considered for such positions. Furthermore, the consequences of hiring Said, whether intended or not, will likely be to aggravate campus tensions.

The issue is not Said’s personal political views. He clearly is entitled to them. Nor is the issue his championing the Palestinians. Most pro-Israel advocates also want Palestinian concerns addressed.

Rather, the issue is the demonization of Israel, the questionable scholarship, factual distortions and extremist views that Mr. Said would bring to Wayne State. During his October 30th student interview at Wayne, Mr. Said explicitly stated that outside the classroom, he would “make my positions known in a forceful way in keeping with my position as a citizen and as a scholar.”

During the student interview, he effectively legitimized Palestinian terrorism, arguing that “certain types of armed actions are not murder and they’re not terrorism,” and that “armed resistance” has a “legitimate, legal basis in international law.” In 2005, he ridiculed the Israeli Supreme Court’s concerns about terrorism as “the much-ballyhooed and semi-mythical ‘ticking bomb’ case.” He adamantly supports a full Palestinian “right of return,” which would allow millions of Palestinians to move to Israel and destroy the Jewish State demographically. In a published paper, Said even argued that refugees should not be bound by any Palestinian-Israeli agreement that jeopardized or limited this contentious “right-of-return.” Said also speaks at events organized by radical groups like Al-Awda (the Right of Return organization) which has fomented divisiveness on campuses across the country. At his student interview, he said he supports divestment from Israel and defended it as a “non-violent” strategy to “end the conflict” though most moderates oppose all such boycotts which are viewed as one-sided, propagandistic and counter-productive.

There is also strong evidence that Mr. Said’s biases will affect his teaching and his scholarship, thus violating a cardinal principle of academic freedom and intellectual integrity—critically examining ideas, not distorting or coloring facts to win adherents to a cause. He has misrepresented law and facts for this purpose. For example, in his main scholarly paper, he cited UN resolutions that he interpreted as favorable to his agenda and then claimed that UN General Assembly resolutions are binding and have the force of international law. However, the UN Charter explicitly states that General Assembly resolutions are non-binding. He also implied that former President Clinton endorsed the Palestinian “right of return” when in fact Clinton is on record saying just the opposite.

Mr. Said’s apparent tendency to put political activism over the law even extended to his brief stint in legal practice. Said was a member of the public defense team for one of the seven co-defendants in the case against University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian who was accused of aiding Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a designated terrorist organization responsible for killing more than 100 people, including Americans.. Mr. Said’s client pleaded guilty and was sentenced. Though the judge had ruled out discussion of Israeli actions as irrelevant, Said interjected them by reading unsubstantiated allegations against Israel under the guise of checking the accuracy of translated testimonies. If Mr. Said did not resist the temptation to present his political views in a court of law despite the judge’s ruling, one wonders how he would exercise restraint in the classroom.

If hired, Mr. Said told students that he would like to branch beyond criminal law to teach Islamic law, law of the Middle East, immigration law, political asylum law and law about, as he phrased it, “the so-called war on terrorism.” Given his penchant for promoting his agenda, there is reason to be concerned about the crossover between his politics and the lectern.

Hopefully, Wayne will be open to dialogue with concerned students and the wider community. We trust the school will carefully weigh the qualifications of each candidate and choose one who is highly qualified and who promotes reasoned, informed discourse and a diversity of views, not one who will promote a biased viewpoint, who has stated that he will openly endorse anti-Israel views and campaigns, and who will thereby aggravate campus tensions.

We hope that the Wayne State administration and faculty make a decision that upholds the school’s high academic standards and produces a positive influence on the campus and on its intellectual pursuits.

Dr. Seid and Ms. Rothstein direct Stand with Us, “an international education organization that ensures that Israel’s side of the story is told in communities, campuses, libraries, the media and churches through brochures, speakers and conferences.” This article originally appeared on the Stand With Us website.