July 14, 2017
As members of Jewish communities across the United States and around the world, we stand in solidarity with Professor Rabab Ibrahim Abdulhadi, General Union of Palestinian Students and other students and advocates for justice in Palestine at San Francisco State University (SFSU) currently under attack by the Lawfare Project.
Identifying itself as “the legal arm of the pro-Israel community,” this 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 anti-Semitism, the Lawfare Project charges SFSU with violating the 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 references a 2016 protest by SFSU students of Jerusalem Mayor 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 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. 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 Jewish people, we object to this attack on Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim groups, an action produced through the cynical misuse of the notion of antisemitism and the pretense of protecting Jewish students from threats that do not exist.
In recent years, Dr. Abdulhadi has faced relentless defamation, intimidation, and assaults because of her advocacy for justice in Palestine as part of what she aptly calls “the indivisibility of justice,” including support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. BDS is a strategy to oppose the occupation of Palestine by Israel--it is a global campaign modeled after the successful anti-Apartheid movement for justice in South Africa and is in no way antisemitic. 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 legal rights of the Jewish people around the globe,” despite the fact that growing numbers of Jews object to Israeli state violence and work to hold Israel accountable for the ongoing mistreatment of Palestinians.
We take antisemitism seriously, and so does Professor Abdulhadi. There is nothing inherently antisemitic in promoting Palestinian rights and freedoms, or in opposing the racist violence of the Israeli state--for many, our Jewishness prompts us to take such action in pursuit of justice. Further, Lawfare Project’s tactic of conflating criticism of Israel with antisemitism is itself fundamentally antisemitic, because it identifies Jewishness with a litany of racist policies and human rights violations, and marginalizes the ever-increasing numbers of Jews who actively oppose these crimes. Far from doing anything to challenge or eliminate actual antisemitism, the lawsuit 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 Jewish people related to multiple histories of oppression, we demand justice for all people. We know Professor Abdulhadi as an ally over decades of struggle. Many of us have learned from and worked alongside her. We strongly urge SFSU and the CSU to defend her against these attacks.