USACBI stands with Professor Rabab Abdulhadi against racist and Islamophobic attacks and intimidation


The USACBI Organizing Collective stands in solidarity with USACBI Advisory Board member and San Francisco State University (SFSU) Professor Rabab Abdulhadi and with the members of the SFSU General Union of Palestinian Students (GUPS) as they undergo intimidation, defamation, and attacks by the right-wing Zionist organization, The Lawfare Project.

The Lawfare Project represents an escalation of a campaign that seeks not only to destroy the careers and sabotage the political work of Professor Abdulhadi and GUPS students, but also to destroy the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas (AMED) Studies program and the College of Ethnic Studies at SFSU. This is a prolonged assault, one that has been going on for years.

Despite the intensity and extended nature of this attack, the SFSU administration has yet to speak out in defense of Professor Abdulhadi, members of GUPS, AMED, or the College of Ethnic Studies and its Dean, Kenneth Monteiro. We call upon President Leslie Wong to provide an unequivocal defense of Professor Rabab Abdulhadi, who has undergone years of targeting for her advocacy work for Palestinians, and against Islamophobia and racism against Arabs, Muslims and Palestinians on the SFSU campus. We also call upon President Wong to issue a strong statement of support for GUPS; for the College of Ethnic Studies and Dean Kenneth Monteiro; and for AMED Program. That the administration has remained silent in the face of The Lawfare Project”s attacks on this program and its faculty evidences its complicity with those who would conduct a campaign of flagrant racism at SFSU and at other institutions of higher learning across the United States.

California Scholars for Academic Freedom has provided an explanation of The Lawfare Project and the SFSU administration”s shameful response to it:

The Lawfare Project filed its lawsuit against SFSU in federal court on June 19, 2017. The suit conflates criticism of Israel and its denial of Palestinian rights with anti-Semitism, and on that basis charges SFSU with violating the constitutional and civil rights of Jewish students and community members. The intent of the lawsuit is clear: to silence researchers and advocates for Palestinian rights and to ensure that they are punished.

The Lawfare Project describes itself as “the legal arm of the pro-Israel community.” Its director, Brooke Goldstein, has appeared several times on Fox News and other media and has made explicit Islamophobic statements, for example, discrediting the word “Islamophobia” as a “made-up term propagated by the Muslin [sic] Brotherhood.” She has dismissed concerns around the growing hate speech against Muslims as a “dangerous phenomenon.”  She has denied the very existence of Palestinians, stating, “Why are we using the word Palestinian? There”s no such thing as a Palestinian person.” Furthering its agenda, the Lawfare project has also attacked human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch and the Center for Constitutional Rights.

The Lawfare Project suit references the protest in April 2016 by SFSU students of a SF Hillel event featuring Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.  The impetus for the student protest was Barkat”s history of home demolitions and racism against Palestinians. When students protested the talk, SF Hillel broadcast false allegations of anti-Semitism and nonexistent physical threats towards Jewish students.  SFSU then conducted its own investigation and determined that these allegations were unfounded.

This independent investigation commissioned by President Wong and conducted by the Van Dermyden Maddux Law Firm on the “April Event” concluded that:

“The protest was directed towards the Mayor of Jerusalem based on his politics, and not towards any of the audience members based on the audience members” protected characteristics.  The record tips in favor of concluding that the protestors” attention, comments and conduct were directed at the Mayor.  This finding is bolstered by the fact that the protestors left the Event shortly after the Mayor exited the room.” And further that “While some audience members were deeply hurt, even frightened, by the protest, in this specific circumstance there were no direct threats of imminent violence that would have justified police intervention, specifically arrest and removal from the area.“

The SFSU report found that while disruptive of the Mayor”s talk, the protest posed no safety risks and was focused on the mayor because of his racist policies, and not the attending students for their Jewish identity.

The lawsuit falsely accuses Prof. Abdulhadi of anti-Semitism and of having links with terrorist organizations; the entire College of Ethnic Studies (COES) is targeted in repeated statements throughout the lawsuit; and SFSU is portrayed as “the most anti-Semitic campus in the nation.” These outrageous and insulting accusations demand a clear, strong and immediate response to vindicate the academic reputations of the faculty at SFSU and to repudiate the racism implicit in them.

Yet, instead of citing the results of SFSU”s own investigations and reassuring the campus community and the public at large that the allegations in the lawsuit are false, President Wong”s statement erroneously conceded that the disruption of the Mayor Barkat event was an “ugly reminder“ that “anti-Semitism … is real and our community has work to do.” To be perfectly clear, there was nothing anti-Semitic in the protest that was entirely directed against certain policies promoted and implement by Mayor Barkat.

The Lawfare Project and its attack on SFSU faculty and students for supporting justice in Palestine partakes of campaigns of intimidation and silencing that have been occurring throughout the United States in increasing numbers. The David Horowitz “Freedom” Center and the anonymous right-wing Zionist website Canary Mission have played important roles in campus attacks that are anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-black. So, too, have other militant Zionist groups including the AMCHA Initiative, Campus Watch, StandWithUS, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Middle East Forum, and the Zionist Organization of America.

Recent examples of related attacks on Palestinian academics and their supporters include the peremptory firing of Professor Steven Salaita by the University of Illinois; the denial of tenure to Professor Sean McMahon at The American University in Cairo; the public defamation of Professor and former U.N. Rapporteur Richard Falk;  and the cancellation of the faculty search at California State University for the Edward Said Professorship, on “procedural” grounds, after intense pressure from right-wing Zionist groups.

It is the responsibility of campus administrators to protect faculty and students when they are targeted for advocating justice in Palestine, whether in their scholarly and pedagogical work or in their public speech and actions. Academic freedom should not belong only to those who support the status quo. Indeed, it is particularly imperative that persons affiliated with institution of higher learning who engage in struggles to transform unjust structures retain their right to speak critically, and to participate in non-violent protest, without fear of punishment or retaliation. In the case of SFSU, the administration also has a responsibility to protect the programs and departments under assault–AMED, and the College of Ethnic Studies.

We call upon President Wong to uphold and defend the academic freedom of Professor Rabab Abdulhadi, the GUPS students, and all other faculty members and students under racist attack at San Francisco State University. We demand that you make clear that the right-wing smear campaign against them is absolutely unfounded, irrational and unacceptable. We further demand that you engage in a principled legal defense, and refuse to settle this lawsuit in a way that concedes to any of the charges issued. Finally, we demand that you commit to defending and upholding–both financially and ethically–AMED Studies Program and the College of Ethnic Studies. To do so is not only imperative for preserving academic freedom, and intellectual and moral integrity, at SFSU, but also for taking a stand against, rather than contributing to, the escalating repression now sweeping across US college campuses in these increasingly precarious times.


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