Raised in Des Moines, Iowa, Sondra Hale holds a B.A. in English Literature (1961), an M.A. in African Studies, and a Ph.D. in Anthropology (1979)—all from UCLA. After completing her undergraduate studies in 1961, she traveled to Sudan, where she claims to have “learned my feminism from Sudanese women … the strongest and most accomplished women I’ve ever met.”
In subsequent years, Hale revisited Sudan and its surrounding region numerous times for vacation and research. These trips inculcated her with an increasingly strong affinity for African, especially Arab Muslim-African, culture. This affinity was later reflected in the decidedly pro-Arab tone of Hale’s perspective on the genocidal campaign waged by Islamists in Darfur. Said Hale in 2006: “The struggle in Darfur has been framed as one of Arabs victimizing Africans—and this is a 9/11 phenomenon; i.e., a chance to make an anti-Arab statement, at least as a subtext…. We are as intent on placing blame as we are about stopping the violence.” In November 2007, Hale suggested that the violence of Darfur’s Islamists could be stopped by sending in “mediation, negotiation, healing and psychotherapy … professionals to work with people when tensions are building up.”
After completing her Ph.D. program in 1979, Hale became a professor of both Women’s Studies and Anthropology at UCLA, and eventually was appointed as chair of the Women’s Studies program. In 1982 she became embroiled in controversy when an Associated Press article reported that Hale was teaching her classes from a decidedly radical-feminist, “imbalanced” perspective with an “emphasis on lesbianism and an advocacy of it.”
At the time, UCLA’s Women’s Studies program was already under scrutiny because of complaints that one of its female instructors had shown photographic slides of her own genitals in class, and that a male instructor had offered extra credit to students who agreed to engage in experimental sex. To avoid further controversy, UCLA demoted Hale from her position as chair, temporarily closing the Women’s Center and canceling all courses in the Women’s Studies program.
In response, Hale and twelve fellow faculty members, with help from the American Civil Liberties Union, initiated a lawsuit that would drag on for nearly a decade—resulting, in 1991, in a cumulative $110,000 settlement for the six teachers and administrators who were still plaintiffs in the case.
After her demotion from UCLA’s Women’s Studies program, Hale took a job in the anthropology department at California State University (1987-1994) while also staying on as a lecturer at UCLA. In 1997 she became an adjunct professor at UCLA and eventually gained tenure there in 2001.
Hale thereafter became a devotee of Columbia University professor Edward Said, a hard-core Palestinian sympathizer. The idea of a belligerent Israel waging war against innocent Palestinian civilians soon became Hale’s mantra. In 2002 Hale was a signatory to an open letter warning that Israel planned to use the impending Iraq War as a pretext to engage in “ethnic cleansing” against the Palestinians. That same year, she was slated to participate in the American Association of University Professors’ (AAUP) conference on academic boycotts against Israel; the event, however, was ultimately cancelled.
By 2003, Hale had fully embraced the Palestinian cause—along with its associated anti-American and anti-Israel tenets. In July 2006, she supported a coalition of Palestinian academics who were protesting Israel’s recent military incursion into Gaza, which had been launched in response to Arab kidnappings and provocations. But in Hale’s calculus, Israel was behaving as an aggressive oppressor of innocent Palestinian victims.
In the wake of Israel’s 2008 bombing of the Islamic University of Gaza, Hale exhorted Israeli academics to “take a stand and put pressure on their universities, which are highly implicated in the developing of weapons through scientific research.” The fact that Palestinian terrorists had turned portions of the Islamic University into a Hamas rocket-manufacturing facility had no impact on Hale’s public statements.
In 2009 Hale became a founding member of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel‘s organizing committee.
At an October 2009 conference at the Center for Near Eastern Studies, whose faculty advisory committee she chaired, Hale likened two pro-Israel groups—StandWithUs and the Zionist Organization of America—to “Nazis” and “McCarthyists.” At the time, she was a co-editor of the Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies, a position she held from 2006-2009.
Hale retired from her post at UCLA on December 1, 2011. Other highlights of her academic and activist career included her term as president of the Association for Middle East Women’s Studies; her nomination for the presidency of the Middle East Studies Association; and her founding of the group Feminists in Support of Palestinian Women._