Open Letter by California Scholars for Academic Freedom

The original Open Letter is available at the CS4AF website:

June 28, 2017

Dr. Leslie Wong, President
San Francisco State University

CSU Board of Trustees

Dear President Wong and CSU Board of Trustees:

We write on behalf of California Scholars for Academic Freedom (cs4af)* to express opposition to the ongoing defamation, intimidation, and assaults against the academic freedom of SFSU faculty members by the right-wing Zionist organization, The Lawfare Project. We are troubled by the absence of a clear public statement from President Wong to offer a principled defense of Professor Rabab Abdulhadi who has been repeatedly and unfairly targeted by such attacks as has the College of Ethnic Studies and Dean Kenneth Monteiro.

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 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 conflation of criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism has become a standard tactic by Zionist organizations, which seek to censor criticism of the Israeli state.  That tactic itself is fundamentally anti-Semitic because it associates with Jewishness an unending list of well-documented racist policies and crimes against humanity committed by the state of Israel, and it ignores the many Jews who actively oppose those crimes.  Far from the worthy goal of fighting real anti-Semitism, this lawsuit serves the propaganda aims of the government of Israel, at the expense of academic freedom and the constitutionally protected rights of California residents.

Public universities have a special responsibility to protect academic freedom and freedom of speech. Academic freedom allows professors to conduct and disseminate scholarly research, to design courses and teach students in the areas of their expertise, and to enjoy First Amendment protections for extramural speech.   These are essential activities for any institution calling itself a university.

We strongly urge President Wong to uphold and defend the academic freedom of Professor Rabab Abdulhadi and all faculty members at San Francisco State University, and to publicly stand against false accusations by outside organizations with racist agendas. And do so with the same resolve he expressed in his June 16, 2016 message by extending to Professor Abdulhadi

and the College of Ethnic Studies his declaration that, “No person in our community should feel disrespected or unsafe and we must all work together to ensure this is not the case”.

We look forward to receiving your response,

California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Contact Persons:

Sondra Hale, Research Professor, Anthropology and Gender Studies, UCLA

Nancy Gallagher, Research Professor, Department of History, UCSB

David Klein, Professor of Mathematics, CSU Northridge

James Quesada, Professor and Chair Department of Anthropology, SFSU

cc​. Chancellor Timothy White

**CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM is a group of more than 200 academics who teach in 20 California institutions.  The group formed as a response to various violations of academic freedom that were arising from both the post-9/11/2001 climate of civil rights violations and the increasing attacks on progressive educators by neo-conservatives. Many attacks have been aimed at scholars of Arab, Muslim or Middle Eastern descent or at scholars researching and teaching about the Middle East, Arab and Muslim communities.  Our goal of protecting California Scholars based mainly in institutions of higher education has grown broader in scope to include threats to academic freedom across the United States, and where relevant, globally as well. We recognize that violations of academic freedom anywhere are threats to academic freedom everywhere.