Sign on: Defend Academic Freedom at San Francisco State

Please add your name to the statement below. To sign on, please use the Google Form:

Dear President Wong and CSU Board of Trustees:

We undersigned want 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. This is just the latest episode of a series of attacks from several Zionist groups against Prof. Abdulhadi and the Arab Muslim and Ethnicities Diasporas (AMED) Studies program at SF State. (1) 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. (2) 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”. (3) 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.” (4) 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. (5) 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.” (6) 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.”(7)

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.” Furthermore, the lawsuit slanders the historic 1968 strike, which led to the creation of COES, as the beginning of an anti-Semitic culture at SFSU. 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.” (8)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.(9) 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 you, 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. We demand that you:

1) Refuse to settle this lawsuit conceding any of the slanderous attacks to the San Francisco State faculty and students, 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 absolutely 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;

We await an urgent response to support our colleague,

Faculty and community allies in defense of Academic Freedom, Ethnic Studies and against Islamophobia



Resources and References:

(1) You can find here a brief summary of the series of intimidations, harassment and bullying from the Amcha Initiative defamation campaign in 2016 to the Horowitz Freedom Center Posters which appeared on campus on October 2016 and May 2017.
(2) You can find the lawsuit here:
(3) Here is one example:
(9) One useful resource on the dangers and lack of legal basis re the conflation of anti-Semitism with criticism of Israel

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