Brendan O’Leary

Brendan O’Leary


* Professor of Political Science and Peace Studies at the University of Pennsylvania
* Claims that the state of Israel was founded by “terrorists”
* Claims that the 9/11 attacks were perpetrated by those “who feel most humiliated and outraged by western power, and its leading state, the United States of America”

Born on March 19, 1958 in Cork, Ireland, Brendan O’Leary spent his childhood in Nigeria and his teenage years in Sudan and Northern Ireland. Holding a B.A. from Oxford University (1981) and a Ph.D. from the London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE, 1988), O’Leary served on the LSE faculty from 1983-2003. Since July 2002 he has taught political science at the University of Pennsylvania. Over the years, O’Leary has also been a visiting professor of political science at Uppsala University (Sweden), the University of Western Ontario (Canada), and Queen’s University (Belfast, Northern Ireland).

Two days after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, O’Leary counseled Americans not only to resist making reflexive condemnations of the hijackers, but also to ponder how those same killers “might have seen their [own] actions.” “[I]t must be asked why hatred of the U.S. is so fierce in these locations,” he added. “… U.S. foreign policy before and after the Cold War has propped up authoritarian regimes. And it has, to the abiding humiliation of the Islamic world, supported Israel, right or wrong–and Israel is not always right.” Offering his own interpretation of 9/11’s root causes, O’Leary wrote: “The people who organized these atrocities were probably motivated by the world-religion that is most secularization-resistant, and from the peoples who feel most humiliated and outraged by western power, and its leading state, the United States of America. If this is so, it should make us think. The USA & NATO and their allies cannot sensibly go to war against Islam, or against Islamic believers, and to start to engage in public discourse of that type would simply make it more likely to lead to extensive repetitions of what has just occurred.” Along the same lines, O’Leary called on Americans to “think carefully before supporting large-scale retaliatory jihads” in response to atrocities which he described as “criminal” rather than as acts of war.

In an October 2002 piece in London’s Times Higher Education Supplement, O’Leary asserted that “Jewish terrorism in Palestine helped to establish the state of Israel” in 1948. By contrast, he took a conspicuously more charitable view of Palestinian Arabs who were targeting Israeli civilians for murder during the Second Intifada, classifying them as “militants” who were merely prone to “political violence.”

In an August 2005 “Letter to Europeans,” O’Leary condemned “the illegality of the United States war to depose Saddam Hussein‘s regime; the falsehood of claims that his regime very recently possessed deployable weapons of mass destruction and was linked to al-Qaeda; and the violation of human rights under the U.S.-led occupation authority and the subsequent transitional government.” He also emphasized “the necessity of relying on the United Nations as the sole means of providing legitimate international assistance in the constitutional reconstruction of Iraq.”

One course that O’Leary taught at U Penn in the mid-2000s, was called “National and Ethnic Conflict-Regulation,” part of the school’s “Peace Studies” program. A left-wing amalgam of political science, comparative politics, international relations, and public policy, this course purported to examine the ways in which governments respond to ethnic conflict. Toward that end, it surveyed various regions, past and present, where national and ethnic conflicts had flared with great intensity: Northern Ireland, South Africa, Nazi Germany, and the United States. With regard to the troubled Middle East, it addressed only the conflict of Israel/Palestine.

In addition to his professorial duties, O’Leary has served in numerous other capacities:

  • He was a political adviser to the British Labour Shadow Cabinet on Northern Ireland between 1987-88 and 1996-97.
  • He sat on the editorial board of the Irish Information Partnership from 1988-90.
  • From 2003-05 he was an adviser to the Kurdistan Regional Government, providing counsel on the drafting of the Transitional Administrative Law, the Constitution of Iraq, and the Constitution of the Kurdistan Region.
  • In 2004 he was a contributing consultant to the United Nations Human Development Report on Culture and Liberty, and from 2009-10 he was a senior advisor to the UN’s Power-Sharing Mediation Support Unit.
  • From 2005-11 he was a trustee with International Alert, an organization that aims to help people in Asia, the South Caucasus, the Middle East, and Latin America “find peaceful solutions to conflict.”

Moreover, O’Leary has been a constitutional adviser for both the European Union and the United Nations, and for the United Kingdom’s Department of International Development. Since 2017, he has been president of the Kurdistan Museum Foundation.

By O’Leary’s telling, the United States, Argentina, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand were all nations “built on the destruction of native communities.” Moreover, O’Leary views the pursuit of racial and ethnic diversity as a laudable means of attempting to score “a political victory over traditional notions of assimilation and homogenizing integration.”

O’Leary is the author, co-author, or co-editor of 21 books, and the author or co-author of more than 120 articles.

For additional information on Brendan O’Leary, click here.

Further Reading: “Brendan O’Leary” (U-Penn,; “Responding to Terrorism Symposium” (Brendan O’Leary, 9-13-2001); “In Defence of the Indefensible” (Brendan O’Leary, Times Higher Education Supplement, October 2002); “A Letter to Europeans,” (Brendan O’Leary, Ekurd Daily, 8-21-2005); “UPenn’s Teror Apologists” (Jacob Laksin,, 3-30-2005).

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