Why are prominent Western universities “twinning” with a Palestinian Arab institution that permits glorification of the October 7 pogrom?
Fatah Shabiba, the second-largest student group at An-Najah University, has been tweeting non-stop praise of the pogromists. Yet so far, the numerous Western universities and student unions that have relationships with the university have said nothing.
An-Najah is the largest university in the Palestinian Authority-governed territories. Hamas has 40 seats on its student council, and Fatah Shabiba has 38. Fatah Shabiba is the student wing of Fatah, the ruling faction of the PA.
On the day of the massacres, Fatah Shabiba posted a photo of terrorists from Hamas and Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades together in the back of a pickup truck, apparently taking part in the invasion of Israel.
The accompanying text declared: “On the ground, we stand as one, each one is defending from their stronghold, and there is no difference between two people defending the same homeland. May the men’s forearms be blessed, and may the result be blessed.”
The next day, October 8, Fatah Shabiba posted a photo of masked terrorists with Fatah headbands above this caption: “We are the proud ones when disasters come, we stand against them like a volcano—the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades – #The_Al-Aqsa_Flood.” The term “Al-Aqsa Flood” is the name by which Hamas calls its pogrom.
On October 10, Fatah Shabiba’s Twitter (X) account featured another photo of Fatah terrorists with automatic rifles. The text called them “Men who loved the Al-Aqsa Mosque [and] the [Al-Aqsa Martyrs] Brigade and [the Al-Aqsa] Flood.”
Two days later, a message from Fatah Shabiba called on Arabs throughout the PA territories to “go to the points of friction with the occupation, to avenge the blood of our heroic Martyrs, and to support the resistance in the proud Gaza Strip.”
(Translations courtesy of Palestinian Media Watch.)
In recent years, several Western universities and student unions have “twinned” with An-Najah, sponsoring joint programs and visits by faculty and students.
The list includes McGill University in Canada; the University of Applied Sciences in Darmstadt, Germany; the University of Abertay in Dundee, England; the University of Naples Federico in Italy; Norway’s Stavanger University; and student unions at three British universities—the University of Essex, the University of Manchester, and the London School of Economics.
What motivates Western universities to seek relationships with an institution that tolerates support for terrorism? Why haven’t any of them threatened to sever ties with An-Najah unless it shuts down Fatah Shabiba?
Perhaps the answer may be found in the history of American universities twinning with schools in Nazi Germany in the 1930s. Just as An-Najah craved international ties to soften its pro-terrorist image, the Nazis regarded relationships with U.S. universities as opportunities to improve their image abroad. The New York Times reported that one Nazi official described German exchange students as “political soldiers of the Reich.”
Many American students and faculty who visited Germany returned with friendly assessments, according to Stephen Norwood’s landmark study, The Third Reich in the Ivory Tower. Columbia University dean Thomas Alexander came back convinced that Hitler’s forced sterilization policy was a good way of “throwing out the criminals and other undesirables.” American University chancellor Joseph Gray reported that German cities were “amazingly clean” and that “everybody was working in Germany.”
The most active participants in the student exchanges with Nazi Germany were the “Seven Sisters” colleges—Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke, Radcliffe, Smith, Vassar, and Wellesley. Their enthusiasm was not dampened by the Nazi regime’s oppressive policies toward German women. After visiting Germany in 1935, Barnard dean Virginia Gildersleeve called Hitler’s territorial expansion plans “legitimate” and said Nazi limits on the enrollment of women in universities were justified because some professions in Germany were overcrowded.
Vassar student Mary Ridder, who spent her junior year at the University of Munich, told her campus newspaper in 1934 that she used to think the Nazis were as bad as the Ku Klux Klan. “But while I was in Germany, I met Hitler and had a long conversation with him,” she reported. “Now I see him as a truly national person who, beyond a doubt, feels he is looking out for the best interests of his country.” As for Germany’s Jews, “None of the Jews who fought at the front [in World War I] have been molested,” she erroneously asserted.
Harvard accepted an invitation to participate in anniversary celebrations at the Nazi-controlled University of Heidelberg in 1936. Its president, James Conant, said “political conditions” should not be allowed to interfere in friendly relations between the two institutions.
Columbia also accepted the invitation. Its representative, Prof. Arthur Remy, declared upon his return that the event was “impressive and dignified.” He found the reception for the American delegates, hosted by Nazi propaganda minister Josef Goebbels, to be “very enjoyable.”
Several American universities participated in the bicentennial celebration at the Nazi-controlled University of Goettingen in 1937. That event took place in “a thoroughly National Socialist atmosphere,” according to the New York Times. Among the U.S. delegates was the chairman of Cornell University’s German Department, Prof. A. B. Faust, who accepted an honorary degree and gave the Nazi salute during the ceremony.
What motivated those who befriended Nazi universities in the 1930s? Some wanted to demonstrate open-mindedness and a spirit of academic camaraderie. Some naively believed they were taking part in legitimate scholarly endeavors. And none of them showed any concern for the suffering of the Jews in Nazi Germany.
Suppose An-Najah takes no action against Fatah Shabiba, and Western universities and student unions continue to partner with An-Najah. In that case, one may justifiably wonder whether the mindset among many in the academic world today has changed very much since the Nazi era.
(Dr. Medoff is the founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies and the author of more than 20 books about Jewish history and the Holocaust. His most recent book, America and the Holocaust: A Documentary History, was published by the Jewish Publication Society of America / University of Nebraska Press. And available on Amazon, as are his other books)