Defend Rabab Abdulhadi!

Dianne Feeley

March 22, 2018

Professor Rabab Abdulhadi, director and founder of the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas program (AMED) at San Francisco State University is a leading scholar, educator and advocate for justice in Palestine. The AMED program is housed in the School of Ethnic Studies, which was won out of a strike in which about 900 students were arrested and expelled at San Francisco State in 1968-69. I was one.

Abdulhadi and the AMED program have been targeted by David Horowitz and other right-wingers. They have plastered SFSU and other university campuses with posters identifying Abdulhadi as a terrorist. Most recently the Lawfare Project, a right-wing anti-Arab and anti-Muslim organization, brought a suit in federal court alleging that by advocating justice for Palestine both Professor Abdulhadi and the university encouraged a climate of antisemitism. Dr. Abdulhadi had the support not only of Palestinian organizations, but also Jewish Voice for Peace, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Black student organizations and the veterans of the SF State strike of 1968-69.

On March 9, 2018 U.S. District Court Judge Orrick dismissed the lawsuit as frivolous. The court noted that the lawsuit was “full of barely relevant material” and did “not state a plausible claim for relief.” When the case was first heard last November over 100 students, faculty and community members — including members of Solidarity — rallied outside the courthouse; approximately half were able to attend the hearing.

Lawfare Project’s lead attorney stated that the goal in filing the lawsuit was to “make the enemy pay.” For her part Dr. Abdulhadi pointed out that “This legal bullying attempts to pick up where other members of the pro-Israel network previously failed, namely to get rid of me and dismantle advocacy for justice in Palestine at SFSU.”

Right-wing attempts to wear down Rabab Abdulhadi and shut down AMED will definitely continue, but this is an important victory for academics and students who face harassment from pro-Israeli organizations. One incident in the complaint concerned a “Know your rights” fair organized in February 2016 by Muslim, Arab and Latino campus groups in response to Trump’s targeting of immigrants, refugees and Muslims. The campus pro-Israeli Hillel organization claimed that Palestine solidarity groups, by failing to invite them to participate, discriminated against them.

Hillel students had repeatedly raised their complaints with SFSU President Wong, who finally decided to meet with a dozen students. Much to the surprise of many, on February 23rd Wong sent out an email to the entire campus community. In it he apologized for the “hurt feelings” of Jewish students and emphasized that “Zionists are welcome” on campus. While several of Hillel representatives were not satisfied with the meeting’s results, many campus organizations and the larger community have questioned Wong’s message.

Many found Wong’s email disturbing because it equated Zionism with Jewishness. As the messages and statements pointed out, Zionism is a political ideology, while Jewishness is an ethnicity or religious affiliation. Others noted that Wong expressed little concern for the vicious posters still being put up on the SFSU campus equating Professor Rabab Abdulhadi with terrorism.

In response to the attacks on Abdulhadi and AMED, veterans of the 1968-69 strike have written two letters to President Wong expressing our solidarity with Professor Abdulhadi’s impressive work. The most recent was sent on November 7, just before the trial.

Letter to San Francisco State University President Wong

Dear President Wong, Dean Monteiro and Chancellor White:

We are writing as veteran participants of the 1968-69 Student Strike at SFSU. As you know more than 800+ students were arrested and expelled during the strike. We fought for 15 demands, including the creation of a School of Third World Studies.

We are writing to stand in solidarity with Dr. Rabab Abdulhadi, Director and Senior Scholar of Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas (AMED) Studies and Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies and Race and Resistance Studies in the College of Ethnic Studies. Professor Abdulhadi has been subjected to a relentless intimidation and bullying campaign by right-wing Israel lobby groups. During 2016-2017 academic year these included the Campus Watch/Middle East Forum–founded by Daniel Pipes, David Horowitz Freedom Center and Canary Mission– and most recently by the Lawfare Project, which launched a lawsuit against Dr. Abdulhadi, SFSU and CSU. (The Lawfare Project’s director denies the existence of the Palestinian people and promises to make the enemy pay.) Both Pipes and Horowitz have been named as leading Islamophobes and anti-Black by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The attacks also targeted Palestinian students and student advocates for justice in Palestine including Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace.

Professor Abdulhadi has designed the AMED Minor program and taught classes in Palestinian, Arab and Muslim ethnic and diaspora studies. She has stated that these classes are not only for students from an Arab and Muslim background, but are open to, and intended to benefit, everyone given that the demand for justice cuts across all communities. Such a multiethnic, multilayered social justice approach represents the conception of education we fought to set up on campus nearly fifty years ago.

Dr. Abdulhadi has also actively participated in the 40th anniversary commemoration of the Strike as well as the 40th anniversary of the College, bringing well-known activists to campus, such as Yuri Kochiyama. She organized several panels with strike veterans. In 2009 she was an active member of the program committee of the 40th anniversary of the College. Professor Abdulhadi has continued to organize open classrooms for SFSU on and off campus communities and to link justice for Palestine with justice for all.

Dr. Abdulhadi has been falsely accused by McCarthyist, right-wing and racist groups that define her work as “anti-Semitic” and claim that–by meeting with Leila Khaled, a member of the Political Bureau of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which is a member group of the PLO, and with Sheikh Raed Saleh, a leader of the Islamic Movement among Palestinians in Israel–she supports “terrorism.”

In fact, while leading the 2014 North American Academic and Labor Delegation to Palestine, Professor Abdulhadi arranged visits with almost 198 individuals from 89 organizations while visiting 21 cities, towns and refugee camps. Obviously a scholarly tour should arrange to interview people with wide-ranging views. It seems obvious that the tour met those scholarly standards.

Dr. Abdulhadi with students in Palestine

Dr. Abdulhadi has also initiated the collaboration with Palestinian universities under Israeli occupation. These universities that AMCHA calls “terrorist” have recently been raided and attacked by the Israeli military. Relevant and justice-centered education demands that SFSU connects with universities around the world, especially (but not exclusively) in the Third World.

The right-wing groups targeting Dr. Abdulhadi include the AMCHA Initiative, StandWithUs and the Zionist Organization of America. AMCHA co-founder Tammi Benjamin has a long history of attacking the College of Ethnic Studies and the relevant education we struck for so many years ago.

Multiple audits conducted by the College of Ethnic Studies and SFSU President Wong verified that all of Professor Abdulhadi’s expenses were in order and that she did nothing wrong. Yet AMCHA and similar groups have demanded that the California State Controller investigate Dr. Abdulhadi further, resulting in an audit of five years of her international travel, and again turning up nothing. At the same time, David Horowitz launched a petition to demand that SFSU fire Dr. Abdulhadi.

When we were students at S.F. State, had a professor led a delegation to South Africa and visited Nelson Mandela, a right-wing group would have tarred and feathered the professor with terrorist charges, reminiscent of McCarthyist tactics with which we are very familiar.

We see this smear campaign not only as an attack on the reputation of an outstanding Palestinian woman professor but as an attack on the College of Ethnic Studies and the spirit of ‘68. We stand in solidarity with Professor Abdulhadi, Palestinian students and other SFSU advocates for justice.
We strongly urge you, President Wong, Dean Monteiro and Chancellor White to uphold and defend the academic freedom of Professor Rabab Abdulhadi and all SFSU faculty members and to publicly stand against false accusations by outside organizations with racist agendas. We ask you to:

  • 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 Professor 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.

Sincerely yours,

Initial list of signers:

  • Jack Alexis (Rep. of Trinidad and Tobago)
  • Joan Art
  • Terry Collins
  • Nesbit Crutchfield
  • Kitty Kelly Epstein
  • Dianne Feeley
  • Nathan Hare
  • Margaret Leahy
  • John Levin
  • Gene Marchi
  • Sharon Martinas
  • Walter Riley
  • Clarence Thomas
  • Ellen Zebrowski
  • Steve Zeltzer
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