UW Jewish Studies Instructor Refers to Hezbollah Terrorists as “Pleasant People”


SEATTLE – The mission statement of the University of Washington Stroum Center for Jewish Studies proclaims as its objective to “cultivate a diverse intellectual community”,  yet when it comes to the Jewish state, there is a remarkable lack of diversity. In fact of those academics that have made public statements regarding Israel, a remarkable number are on the exact same page, they don’t like it.

While there had been rumblings of anti-Israel sentiment at the Stroum Center for the past few years, the signing by several UW Jewish Studies faculty of an anti-Israel manifesto in May of 2021 served as an anti-Israel coming out party of sorts for many of the thinly closeted Stroum Center academics. Signators included Israel Studies Chair, Liora Halperin, Sephardic Studies Chair Devin Naar, Stroum Center Chair, Susan A. Glenn; along with Assistant Professors Noga Rotem and Sasha Senderovich. The scandal sent shockwaves through the Seattle Jewish community who were forced to confront the fact that hostility to the Jewish state was not merely an outlier, but endemic to one of the community’s most beloved institutions. Those who follow such things are fully aware that the ensuing controversy resulted in UW Jewish Studies mega-donor Becky Benaroya demanding the return of her $5 million dollar endowment to the program.

But it gets worse.

Rewind to July 12, 2006, the date in which Hezbollah terrorists infiltrated into Israel and ambushed two Israeli patrol vehicles on the Israel-Lebanon border; Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were seriously injured in the attack which followed, but were likely still alive when kidnapped by the terrorists.  The soldiers were returned to Israel two years later as part of a prisoner exchange. It was only then that the families of Goldwasser and Regev learned the bitter truth, their boys had been killed.

One of the terrorists involved in the 2006 assault, Hussein Ali Suleiman, was captured by Israel and tried for “membership in a terrorist organization, attempted murder, and kidnapping”. As in all civilized nations, even a terrorist is entitled to defense counsel; in this instance, the state-appointed attorney for Hussein Ali Suleiman, was Smadar Ben-Natan. Writing of her experience defending Suleiman and his accomplice Maher Kourni, Ben-Natan recalled fondly, “We were lucky to have such pleasant people as our clients”. She movingly describes in her essay how when visiting with her Hezbollah defendants in jail she would place her hands upon one side of the prison glass, while the terrorists would place their hands upon hers from the other side of the glass. Empathizing with the terrorist, Ben-Natan lamented that “Being held in captivity was especially difficult for Maher [Kourni] as a married man and a father, and as a mother I identified with him”.

UW Stroum Center Jewish Studies faculty member, Smadar Ben-Natan (center) at an anti-Israel protest; May 2021. Photo Credit: Facebook

Over the past several years,  Ben-Natan has remained at the forefront of anti-Israel activism. In 2019, she signed a petition urging the German government to reconsider its opposition to BDS, a movement condemned as antisemitic by organizations like the Anti-Defamation League and by Jewish leaders at the Seattle Jewish Federation. Ben-Natan serves as a board member of B’Tselem, a European-funded NGO that focuses almost solely on the demonization of Israel.  She has also advocated on behalf of alleged terror-associated organizations like the reportedly PFLP affiliated DCI-P.  

Tweet by Ben-Natan defending DCI-P after the Israeli government declared the group a terror affiliate.

With the above noted anti-Israel activities and credentials already under her belt, Ben-Natan was appointed a Postdoctoral Fellow and an associate faculty member at the University of Washington’s Stroum Center for Jewish Studies in September of 2020. The following May, in the midst of over 4000 Hamas Rockets being fired indiscriminately upon Israeli civilian targets, Ben-Natan joined her Jewish Studies colleagues in adding her name to the now notorious anti-Israel petition.  

The AMCHA Initiative, a non-profit that monitors antisemitic incidents on campus recently released a study concluding that anti-Zionist faculty are fueling campus antisemitism which has increased significantly in recent years – which leads one to wonder, to whom can embattled Jewish students turn when often their own Jewish studies professors share the same sentiments as their tormenters?

While Benaroya at least got her money back, many in the Seattle Jewish community are merely left with a sense of revulsion and betrayal.