As feminists who recognize the necessity of solidarity in antiracist and related anti-oppression struggles, we write with urgency in support of Professor Rabab Abdulhadi, who has recently come under attack for her ceaseless support for Palestinian, Arab and Muslim students and scholarship. Dr. Abdulhadi aptly frames the liberatory internationalist politics she promotes as “the indivisibility of justice,” which reveals the interconnectedness of all freedom struggles, many of which she has participated in as a social movement leader and scholar. With her longstanding commitment to the development of Arab and Muslim feminist studies, Dr. Abdulhadi has instigated coalition-building among feminists of color, transnational feminists, and anti-oppression activists in the United States and beyond. Attacks against Dr. Abdulhadi rely on the false charge of antisemitism--despite the fact that Dr. Abdulhadi has worked in solidarity with progressive Jewish organizations for decades in her role as a leader in the international movement to protest Israeli state violence.
Currently, Dr. Abdulhadi is beset by a cynical lawsuit, brought against her and others at San Francisco State University, where Dr. Abdulhadi founded the innovative Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Studies Program. Identifying itself as “the legal arm of the pro-Israel community,” the Lawfare Project, a small but well-funded group, filed a suit against SFSU on June 19, 2017. Conflating criticism of Israel and its denial of Palestinian rights with antisemitism, the Lawfare Project charges SFSU with violating the civil rights of Jewish students. The intent is familiar: to silence and punish those advocating for Palestinian rights while downplaying the seriousness of anti-Muslim and anti-Arab racism. Indeed, Lawfare Project Director Brooke Goldstein has dismissed Islamophobia as a “made-up term propagated by the Muslim Brotherhood” and denied the existence of Palestinians, remarking that “there’s no such thing as a Palestinian person.”
The lawsuit names the Board of Trustees of the California State University System, SFSU President Leslie Wong, and several other University officials and employees, including Professor Abdulhadi, senior scholar and director of the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas (AMED) Studies program at SFSU. As feminists from many religious, cultural, national, and racial backgrounds, we object to this attack on Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim groups, an action produced through the misuse of the notion of antisemitism and the pretense of protecting Jewish students from threats that do not exist.
The lawsuit references a 2016 SFSU student protest against Israeli Mayor of occupied Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, who has a history of racism and ethnic cleansing, demolishing Palestinian homes and implementing a plan for massive displacement to forcibly reduce the size of the Palestinian population of Jerusalem. After students protested his talk, an organized group of Zionists falsely charged student protesters with being antisemitic and physically threatening toward Jewish students. SFSU conducted an independent investigation and determined these allegations to be unfounded.
In recent years, Professor Abdulhadi has faced relentless defamation, intimidation, and assaults from Zionist organizations because of her advocacy for justice in Palestine, including support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. BDS is a strategy to oppose Israeli colonialism, racism and occupation of Palestine. It is a global campaign modeled after the successful anti-Apartheid movement for justice in South Africa and is thus directed at the Israeli State and its institutions and not at individual Jews or Israelis. The Lawfare Project has mischaracterized Dr. Abdulhadi’s denunciation of Israeli colonialism and apartheid policies. Like many other Zionist organizations, it purports to speak on behalf of “the Jewish people around the globe,” despite the fact that growing numbers of Jewish people object to Israeli state violence and are active in holding Israel accountable for the ongoing mistreatment of Palestinian people.
We recognize the false charge of antisemitism in this case. There is nothing inherently antisemitic in promoting Palestinian rights and freedoms, or in opposing the racist violence of the Israeli state.The Lawfare Project’s conflation of criticism of Israel with antisemitism is an attempt to criminalize solidarity; it is a tactic that has been used to divide justice coalitions, including many feminist coalitions, which have united in liberatory movements. The characterization of support for the struggle for justice in and for Palestine as antisemitic is ironically, fundamentally antisemitic, because it identifies Jewishness with a litany of racist policies and human rights violations. This baseless charge marginalizes the ever-increasing numbers of Jewish people--Jewish feminists key among them--who actively oppose these crimes. Far from doing anything to challenge or eliminate actual antisemitism, the lawsuit divides feminists by marginalizing Arab, Muslim, and other antiracist feminist formations, while it bolsters the propagandistic claims of the Israeli government at the expense of academic freedom and the constitutionally protected rights of students and faculty.
We, the undersigned, call upon SFSU President Dr. Les Wong and CSU Chancellor Dr. Tim White to:1) Refuse to settle this lawsuit or concede any of its slanderous allegations, and conduct a vigorous and principled legal defense against this complaint;2) Publicly and unambiguously defend the academic freedom and the intellectual reputation of our colleague Prof. Abdulhadi, by making a public statement that clears her name of the vicious and unfounded smear attacks against her, and by doing so to protect the intellectual integrity of SFSU;3) Publicly, clearly and unambiguously express your moral and financial support for the AMED Studies program and the College of Ethnic Studies at SFSU, and defend their fundamental role in the SFSU educational mission.
As feminists, we demand justice for all people. We know Professor Abdulhadi as a groundbreaking feminist scholar, veteran leader, and public intellectual who has contributed to multiple fields and bodies of literature, including Palestinian, Arab, and additional forms of antiracist, anti-imperialist feminism. Many of us have learned from and worked alongside her. We strongly urge SFSU and the CSU to defend her against the hateful and unfounded attacks of the Lawfare Project.