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Right-wing group’s new vendetta: Demonizing California professor critical of Israel

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Editor’s note:  Over the past few months, the right-wing Zionist group called the AMCHA Initiative has been leading a campaign against Professor Rabab Abdulhadi, who teaches ethnic studies at San Francisco State University. Abdulhadi is outspoken in her support for Palestine, and recently led an academic delegation to the region, where her group was detained by Israeli authorities.  AMCHA has sent letters to San Francisco State University’s president, demanding that the school conduct an investigation of Abdulhadi’s delegation and an event the professor held in order to determine “whether faculty behavior such as Prof. Abdulhadi’s is compromising the campus climate for Jewish and Israeli students at SFSU.”

Below, we print a letter from Sherry Gorelick, a well-known scholar, sent to San Francisco State University President Leslie Wong. 

Dear President Wong,

I write as a Jew and as a Sociologist. I have spent almost 40 years studying North American Jews. For the last 30 years the focus of my research has been the relationship of various North American Jews to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and I have paid attention to the ways that they have experienced and defined Anti-Semitism. I have been greatly interested in the process by which various Jews have changed their views –or maintained them– in the face of the historical changes of the last 3 decades. I hope that you will find my comments useful concerning the controversy at San Francisco State University regarding Professor Rabab Abdulhadi and the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diaspora Initiative.

Professor Rabab Abdulhadi. (Photo:

Professor Rabab Abdulhadi. (Photo:

I have known Rabab Abdulhadi for over thirty years. I met her when she was a journalist in New York City. In the 1980s I attended an excellent series of lectures that she gave on the history of Palestine. (Most of the people in the audience were Jews.) Later, after she achieved her Ph.D, I knew her as a colleague. We were both participants at the City University of New York Graduate Center in a multi-year high-level seminar on Gender and Human Security, sponsored by the National Council for Research on Women. Last year we were among 6 panelists at a highly successful roundtable at the National Women’s Studies Association Conference.

Rabab Abdulhadi has my deepest respect as a scholar, an intellectual and a very humane human being. As an intellectual I admire the depth and complexity of her mind. As a human being, I deeply appreciate her humanity, the sensitivity of her understanding, and her commitment to the creation of a more just and humane world. And as a Jew I have found her wonderful to work with and to learn with. She has a deep, sympathetic and sophisticated understanding of the relationship of Jews, in all our diversity, to Israel/Palestine, including the emotional and historical elements of that relationship. She is what we call in Yiddish, a mensch.

Having studied Jewish responses to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict over three decades, I must note that in the past 6 years, the diversity of views among Jews has increased as never before. Israeli government extremism has forced Jews to question long-held beliefs. So when AMCHA attacks Prof Abdulhadi and the ethnic studies program she leads, claiming that her activism is “compromising the campus climate for Jewish and Israeli students at SFSU.” AMCHA is stereotyping Jewish students, attributing to all Jewish students their own limited and bigoted prejudices. To stereotype a group of Jews, and deny them their actual diversity of opinion and feeling, is, in my view bordering on anti-Semitism in itself.

In a way this conflict is not really about Professor Abdulhadi at all: it is one item in a broad campaign –I would call it an ideological vendetta– against anyone and everyone anywhere who is critical of Israeli policies and supportive of Palestinian rights. But I find it appalling beyond belief that Professor Abdulhadi, this excellent, and creative innovator, has been attacked so ignorantly and so viciously. I urge you to uphold the academic freedom of Prof. Rabab Abdulhadi, of the programs she leads, and of the students of San Francisco State University, and protect them all from these censorious attacks.

Thank you very much.


Sherry Gorelick

Professor Emerita,

Rutgers University

Sherry Gorelick
About Sherry Gorelick

Sherry Gorelick is Professor Emerita at Rutgers University. She is the author of "City College and the Jewish Poor" and articles on Jewish subjects, and has lectured on Jewish feminism, the Israeli/Palestinian women’s peace movement and related topics.

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10 Responses

  1. ritzl
    ritzl on May 15, 2014, 11:17 am

    Meanwhile, student government leaders across the country take gratis trips to Israel for “educational” purposes.

    UMich SJP was successful in getting at least some of that school’s SG members to pledge not to go on junkets to Israel. Maybe my perceptions are wrong about that, but that seemed like a quick victory at UMich. Quick enough to suggest that there is much just-below-the-surface sensitivity to these junkets, and that AMCHA is opening a proverbial can of worms on this (for itself). The hypocrisy (Israel OK, Palestine not OK) and contrast are 1:1 connected and as stark as can possibly be.

  2. pabelmont
    pabelmont on May 15, 2014, 11:35 am

    This is a terrific letter. It should be sent, broadcast, to ALL university presidents. It will not change their behavior if they have fund-raising problems with BIG-ZION, but it might rescue the others from error (in the letter identified as “bordering on anti-Semitism in itself”).

    Author says that American Jews are NOT monolithic supporters of Israeli government policies, something you’d (presumably) never guess from all the attacks by AMCHA and others on many, many professors — Finkelstein, Abdulhadi, and many more.

    • LeaNder
      LeaNder on May 15, 2014, 12:29 pm

      Pabelmont, if I recall correctly, someone here in the comment section made me aware of this really simple fact.

      AMCHA is stereotyping Jewish students, attributing to all Jewish students their own limited and bigoted prejudices.

      If I recall correctly it was in the context of one of Phan’s articles. Fact is, one side assumes a collective unity among American Jews. And from this basic assumption claims to be able to speak for all of them. Obviously that is the core of their assumed discoursive power.

      Unfortunately Norman’s case may have been too early for this really simple realization. I remember struggling with some of the propaganda foot soldiers at that time.

      I thought quite a bit about “self-hating Jews” during the last decade, and still the very short and simple comment was an epiphany for me. In a way these two core memes: “self-hating Jews cater to antisemitic sentiments, may even trigger it”, and “all Israel related issues can only be discussed behind closed doors among Jews” are closely related. And one way or another may have had the effect of people not daring to speak up.

      Yes, that’s it in a nutshell, “the lobby’s” power rests on its rarely contradicted assertion that it can speak for every Jewish American out there collectively.

  3. Kay24
    Kay24 on May 15, 2014, 11:38 am

    It is intimidation to attack anyone, and everyone, who dares to criticize what the rest of the world perceives to be a disliked rogue state, and a despised occupier. What are we Americans supposed to do, when the facts are out there, and we strongly disagree with the false narrative, that has been forced down our throats, by a well organized alien lobby, it’s trained hasbara brigade, and it’s devoted servants in the media, and those toeing that red line?
    What makes a parasitic nation call the shots in our nation, and who are they to decide which side we should support? I am glad Sherry Gorelick had the courage to stand up for her colleague, and she is right, the attacks against such criticism, and what many perceive to the truth, is alway met with ignorant, and vicious attacks. It is hard to believe that our nation that boasts of free speech, is dumb, and silent, when it comes to ONE negative word against Israel.

    • piotr
      piotr on May 15, 2014, 12:19 pm

      Of course it is intimidation! A video recording of the March event organized by Prof. Abdulhadi shows Jewish students drawn to tears! (I did not see the video, so I am reporting from AMCHA letter.)

      I wonder if there is a recruiting poster “Are you able to cry all night after seeing a leaflet? Are you a person who sheds tears profusely even when just thinking about onions? Israel NEEDS YOU!”

      • Kay24
        Kay24 on May 15, 2014, 12:42 pm

        Well, I am sure the hasbaracuda will be willing to shed some crocodile tears for extra cash!

  4. justicewillprevail
    justicewillprevail on May 15, 2014, 12:17 pm

    Is there no end to the zionists self-deception and their deeply unpleasant, racist attempts to tar and feather anyone who speaks up about their criminal state? If their reputation was low before, these small-minded self-appointed zealots are ensuring that that the zionist regime is about as popular as North Korea. They are an insult to the American education system, political system and the media they similarly seek to intimidate.

  5. John Douglas
    John Douglas on May 15, 2014, 12:35 pm

    This is a great letter that Prof. Gorelick has written. I agree that it should somehow be widely distributed on campuses, especially to administrators who quake in their loafers at the thought of losing a nickel of donor money.

    It is only recently that the academic sphere, so vociferous against racial discrimination in the U.S. and apartheid in S.A., has taken up the issue of Palestinian rights. I admire Shery Gorelick and wish I knew her.

  6. ritzl
    ritzl on May 15, 2014, 2:02 pm

    This letter is well intentioned, but makes me uncomfortable. Does Professor Abdulhadi need to be vouched for by “a Jew” (first five words) in order for her treatment to be deemed reprehensible? What does Dr. Gorelick’s Jewishness matter to any of this? Better to say, ‘…writing as a Sociologist and someone who has known Dr. Abdulhadi for a 20 years…’.

    I get that there is a perceived (yet way overstated and case-weakening, imho) need for immunization against the antisemitism charge, but where does that leave off and gatekeeping begin? But maybe Dr. Gorelick’s intuition is right. We all need to be vouched for by “a Jew” in order to speak up on this issue. My guess, though, is that Dr. Abdulhadi would not cede that independence to anyone, outside private expressions of friendship and support.

    I’m not singling out Dr. Gorelick. She’s obviously trying to help a friend. But this happens a lot, and every time I see it it makes me squirm a little. It always seems like an otherwise well-intentioned acknowledgement/affirmation by Jews that other Jews control the morality on this issue. I don’t know… as a non-Jew that’s just a level of thought dominion which is outside my experience. But maybe it’s just the reality on this issue. Seems like it subordinates the person it’s designed to help, though.

  7. piotr
    piotr on May 16, 2014, 1:23 pm

    I understand the discomfort, and it was nicely spoofed in the donkey video of SNL (it was packed with good stuff, including the distinguished junior Senator from Vermont who chided the “grandstanding” and did it “as a Jew”. However, here Dr. Gorelick is not merely presenting her personal opinion but she is an expert. A sociologist working on Jewish issues for 40 years will know what does and what does not provide “uncomfortable environment”. And in this situation the first attempt to “impeach the expert” would be that she lacks the sensitivity and understanding of the feelings, so it is pertinent that she is also Jewish.

    Actually, the complaint by AMCHA was so thinly argued that I do not think that Abdulhadi was in any danger. Instead, it was a good opportunity to discredit AMCHA using some heavy artillery. That can be very handy when their next target will not have credentials of the same scope as Abdulhadi.

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