Israel lobby smeared Palestinian American professor, then got him fired

Snow and bushes surround a stone sign with the name of the university

Cabrini University discriminated against a Palestinian American professor and violated his First Amendment rights, a lawyer says. (Cabrini Univesity)

A Palestinian American teacher is planning to sue a Pennsylvania university after Israel lobby groups pressured the institution to fire him.

After being fired again from another college months later, he believes he is now blacklisted from teaching.

Kareem Tannous taught for two years as a professor of business on tenure track at Cabrini University, a private college near Philadelphia.

He regularly criticizes Israel and its state ideology, Zionism, on his personal Twitter account.

“But I didn’t preach this at the school, I didn’t even talk about it,” Tannous told The Electronic Intifada, adding that he consistently received high evaluations from his students and was known for making the material engaging and accessible.

However, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and the Jewish Community Relations Council sent letters to the Cabrini administration last year seeking to censure Tannous and have him fired over his personal tweets.

Israel lobby groups such as the Jewish Federations of North America and its local chapters have been prominent forces in the push to shut down criticism of Israel on campuses.

It is also a major force behind the promotion of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) highly controversial “definition” of anti-Semitism, which conflates criticism of Israel, on the one hand, with anti-Jewish bigotry, on the other.

The IHRA definition has become the Israel lobby’s key weapon in North America and Europe to enforce censorship about Israel’s crimes against Palestinians.

The Federation demanded that Tannous should face consequences for “spreading anti-Semitic and anti-Israel commentary and making posts in support of the destruction of the State of Israel,” according to a recent article in The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Meanwhile, a Twitter account and website with a history of relentlessly harassing Palestinians and other advocates for Palestinian rights also began targeting Tannous.

The blacklisting group,, named him last July as “Anti-Semite of the Week.”

A month before he was fired from Cabrini, the website encouraged its followers to email the university administration and submit an “ethnic discrimination complaint” against Tannous.

During a meeting before the semester started, according to Tannous, the administration seemed to believe the Israel lobby groups’ claims.

But he explained that his tweets in defense of Palestinian liberation are “not hate speech, it’s all political speech. And you can’t call political speech hate speech.”

Nevertheless, the college terminated him in August.

Now, Tannous’ lawyer, Mark Schwartz, says that they will file a lawsuit on the grounds that Cabrini discriminated against Tannous and violated his First Amendment rights.


After being fired from Cabrini, Tannous then started a teaching position at nearby Gwynedd Mercy University in January.

But he was notified within his first week on the job that he was being fired.

In its termination letter to Tannous, the college’s human resources department said it had “received a complaint from a community member who shared an article written about you suggesting that your tweets were anti-Semitic.”

The administration claimed that Tannous could be “biased against [students] due to their religious beliefs” – though it made no allegation that he had discriminated against students in any way.

After being dismissed by Gwynedd Mercy, Tannous said “it fired my lawyer up even more.”

Being terminated by two universities “shows that I’m being blacklisted for my speech – and that’s against my civil rights,” he said.


Schwartz said their lawsuit will have precedent, and that he’s confident in Tannous’ case.

He cited the case of Steven Salaita, who was fired by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2014 for social media comments criticizing Israel’s assault on Gaza that year.

“[Salaita] said that he was unemployable, and this is now the case with Kareem,” Schwartz noted.

Salaita sued the university for breach of contract, alleging administrators acted under pressure from pro-Israel donors, later settling the case.

Schwartz also noted the recent reversal by Harvard University of its decision to withdraw an offer of a fellowship to Kenneth Roth, the former director of Human Rights Watch.

The school’s dean, Douglas Elmendorf, blocked the fellowship in December due to pressure – Roth charged – from pro-Israel donors unhappy about Human Rights Watch’s criticisms of the apartheid state.

But amid outrage at what was widely perceived as censorship of criticism of Israel, the prestigious college reinstated its offer to Roth in January.

“Harvard had the good sense to reverse itself,” Schwartz told The Electronic Intifada.

“Maybe some of these inferior universities will give pause. A university is supposed to be a marketplace of ideas – [what happened to Tannous] is just intolerance.”




The Israel lobby clearly believes that this injection of anti-Palestinian vigilance into American academia will have a cautionary effect, causing faculty to knuckle under to free speech restrictions for fear of losing employment and being blacklisted. And it's true that on the whole the monitored profession isn't noted for its fearless advocacy on behalf of oppressed peoples. But as employment conditions in colleges and universities continue to decline under administrations characterized by corporate managerialism, the traditional reluctance to speak out is dissipating. In the end, workers at any level reach the decision to take a stand because in doing so they've more to gain than to lose. And frankly, there's a rising disgust across the land against Israel's interference in the domestic life of the nation. Academics, already overburdened, are not immune to this sentiment, and as more are targeted by the apartheid state's minions, more will stand up to oppose this blatant campaign of persecution.
Kareem Tannous deserves the support and good wishes of everyone both in and out of the educational field. His fight is ours as well.

Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).