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SF State Criticized Over Partnership With Palestinian University Accused Of Anti-Semitism

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – San Francisco State University is facing scrutiny over its partnership with a major Palestinian university accused of anti-Semitism and promoting terrorism against Israel.

A petition was launched this week urging SFSU to end its memorandum of understanding with An-Najah National University in the West Bank. The university, located in the city of Nablus, educates over 22,000 students and is the largest university in Palestine, according to its website.

The petition, by conservative pro-Israeli think tank Middle East Forum, claims that An-Najah supports Hamas, a Palestinian group which has been on the U.S. Department of State's list of foreign terrorist organizations since 1997. It also states that An-Najah National University routinely incites anti-Semitism and violence.

Middle East Forum has called on California State University and the state legislature to investigate SFSU's partnership with An-Najah.

In an opinion piece on news aggregator site Independent Journal Review, Cinnamon Stillwell, member of Middle East Forum's Campus Watch program, cited Washington Institute for Near East Policy fellow Matthew Levitt as saying in 2007 that An-Najah is known for "terrorist recruitment, indoctrination and radicalization of students" through various student groups.

Stillwell, an SFSU graduate and former columnist, also cited the Anti-Defamation League which described An-Najah's student council as "almost completely controlled by factions loyal to Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah, glorifies suicide bombings and propagandizes for jihad against Israel."

But SFSU officials defended the academic freedom of their faculty to pursue a partnership with An-Najah.

J. Elizabeth Smith, SFSU's associate vice president of strategic communications, told CBS San Francisco that the MOU approved in 2014 is one of 106 partnerships that SFSU has with universities in 35 countries. A specific project between the two universities has not yet been identified, according to Smith.

"The purpose of an MOU with each of these international universities is to provide our students and faculty the opportunity to broaden their own intellectual landscape and develop opportunities for expanded creative activity," Smith said. "The university supports the academic freedom of its faculty. Partnerships are initiated by faculty members based on their own academic interests, either for their own particular scholarly pursuits or to advance learning opportunities for their students."

An-Najah's mission statement stands in stark contrast to the allegations contained in the petition. The university states that part of its mission is "to instill a love of understanding in the students and to promote a culture of scientific excellence." An-Najah National University Hospital is the most advanced provider of medical services in Palestine, according to the university's website.

An-Najah officials were not immediately available to respond to CBS San Francisco's request for comment on the allegations against their university, nor was a representative of the General Delegation of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to the U.S.

As of Friday afternoon, the Middle East Forum's petition had over 1,200 online signatures.

By Hannah Albarazi - Follow her on Twitter: @hannahalbarazi.

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