San Francisco State University Professor Rabab Abdulhadi and Palestinian scholarship, pedagogy and research are fighting off yet another attack by the Lawfare Project, the Zionist group that maliciously sued her last year. When Judge William Orrick -Northern District of California, threw out the suit against Dr. Abdulhadi, the university, and a group of campus administrators and staff, the judge allowed Lawfare to refile only because court rules require that plaintiffs be given liberal chances to amend their suits. Judge Orrick’s order made clear that granting the plaintiffs another chance was “[o]ut of an abundance of caution.” This is Lawfare’s third effort at suing Dr. Abdulhadi and the other defendants.
In its earlier failed attempts Lawfare tried to blame Dr. Abdulhadi for a boisterous student protest when Jerusalem’s racist mayor, Nir Barkat spoke on campus at a Hillel-sponsored event. Hillel brought bogus complaints of anti-Semitic bias against the students and demanded that the university punish them. When Hillel was denied a table at a campus Know Your Rights fair nearly a year later, Hillel again claimed this was anti-Semitic, even though Jewish Voice for Peace had a prominent table at the event. As one student organizer observed “Providing a table to Hillel, whose conduct has threatened the safety of campus Palestinians and other advocates for justice in Palestine, is akin to giving a table to ICE at a gathering of undocumented communities, or having the Ferguson Police Chief table at an event discussing police brutality against black teenagers.”
In throwing out this malicious lawsuit Judge Orrick cautioned Lawfare that before it made its third attempt to sue Dr. Abdulhadi, it had to state actual facts rather than simply accusing her of anti-Semitism without any evidence. The federal court indicated that Lawfare’s McCarthyite guilt-by-association tactics would not work, and also cautioned them that if, as Dr. Abdulhadi pointed out, there were non-Zionist Jewish groups which had participated in the Know Your Rights Fair, Lawfare “would face a potentially insurmountable burden” in blaming this exclusion on antisemitism.
Dr. Abdulhadi explained, “This is a desperate attempt by Israel’s apologists to pressure SFSU into shutting down or muzzling the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Studies program, which I founded and direct. I will not be intimidated and I will not be silenced. Professors are role models for their students, and I have a responsibility to demonstrate that fearless pursuit of critical scholarship, pedagogy and advocacy for justice in/for Palestine will not be punished.”
Lawfare didn’t follow this advice. – In a move reflective of Lawfare’s pattern of making generally sweeping, racist, and false factual allegations, it came up with an even more outrageous claim that “Hillel is the only Jewish organization that represents all Jews on campus.” [document 125] This sets up their nonsensical argument that doing something that Hillel does not like is an insult to all Jews on SFSU’s campus and beyond. This deliberately collapses the enormous diversity of political thought among Jewish students on campus (and worldwide) and seeks to inappropriately manipulate any criticism against Hillel into anti-Semitism and as Dr. Abdulhadi frequently points out by raising the question of who owns Jewishness. This logic makes as little sense as ISIS condemning all criticism of its rule as constituting hatred of all Muslims.
Hillel’s self-contrived victimization aesthetic is even more incredible in light of Hillel and other Zionist groups’ ongoing persecution of Israel’s campus critics. In addition to Lawfare’s lawsuit against Dr. Abdulhadi, such Zionist organizations have repeatedly sought criminal and punitive charges against organizations that disagree with them. Indeed, such actions have included Palestinian students being singled out for multiple university-led investigations, three redundant audits of Dr. Abdulhadi’s scholarly work and activities in Palestine, maliciously baseless accusations of terrorism and anti-Semitism, a 2013 investigation of the GUPS president at the time by multiple law enforcement agencies, and a 2002 investigation of two Palestinian students for alleged anti-Semitism at a pro-Israel rally on campus. Not surprisingly, every single one of these investigations found no merit to the allegations of terrorism or anti-Semitism that SFSU Hillel and its allies had maliciously brought in a systematic campaign to smear the character of students and faculty advocating for justice in/for Palestine. Even more disturbingly, SFSU Hillel’s inflammatory allegations have resulted in threats to kill and rape students and faculty – all without any university investigation of Hillel’s dangerous incitement.
However, Lawfare’s attack is backfiring. Their meritless campaign has only highlighted the fact that Dr. Abdulhadi, far from discriminating against Jewish students, often expresses solidarity with and support of Jewish groups who have been subjected to anti-Semitic attacks. Lawfare’s stunt has exposed the fundamental weakness in Zionist arguments that advocacy for Palestinian freedom is equal to discrimination against Jewish students. The lawsuit lays bare that Israel advocates prefer to silence and bully campus critics of Israel rather than confront the policy issues raised by Israel’s denial of freedom and equality to Palestinians. Dr. Abdulhadi has filed two motions pinpointing the legal flaws of Lawfare’s third lawsuit against her. She has shown the court that most of Lawfare’s allegations are based on faulty logic. Since this is the Plaintiffs’ third failed attempt to sue her, she has asked the judge to throw the case out permanently.
Dr. Abdulhadi’s second motion attacks the common hasbara trope that the U.S. State Department has defined criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic. The so-called State Department definition is a widely discredited and over broad description of anti-Semitism on the State Department website, which conflates criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.
Lawfare is not content with the “gifts” given to them by the State Department and instead insists on distorting even this over broad and discredited definition of anti-Semitism. Although the State Department definition criticizes blaming Jews as a people for harm suffered by others, Lawfare falsely insists that this definition includes blaming the Israeli state for this harm – which is nowhere in the example they cite. Dr. Abdulhadi’s second motion asks the judge to strike this bogus “definition” from the complaint. Indeed, Lawfare’s distortions are, unsurprisingly self-serving, and are a key part of Plaintiffs’ ongoing efforts to equate anti-Zionism with antisemitism.
Meanwhile, the SFSU campus administration has given in to pressure from Hillel, the Jewish Community Relations Council, and other pro-Israel groups which seek to muzzle advocates for justice in/for Palestine. In late February, the SFSU President, Leslie Wong issued a statement effectively reproducing the Lawfare’s conflation of Zionism and Jewishness. Dr. Abdulhadi, wrote a “Dear Colleague” email which she then posted on her Facebook page criticizing Wong for “welcoming Zionists to campus, equating Jewishness with Zionism, and giving Hillel ownership of campus Jewishness” and criticizing Zionism as an inherently colonial and racist project. Although Dr. Abdulhadi’s criticism was posted immediately underneath a large graphic proclaiming “I am anti-Zionist. I’m not anti-Jew. So don’t call me anti-Semitic”, it drew an immediate and frenzied backlash from the SFSU Israel lobby. When another Facebook page set up by friends and alumni of AMED Studies at SFSU shared her remarks, demands for censorship intensified. Soon thereafter the Provost for Academic Affairs demanded that Dr. Abdulhadi remove the post from the AMED Facebook page and threatened unnamed “discipline” even as SFSU’s own lawyers were admitting in federal court that SFSU had no control over private Facebook pages. [document 131]. (SFSU has always insisted that pages like this use the “at” designation to make it clear that the page is separate from the University.) “The double-standard is stunning”, said Dr. Abdulhadi. “The Facebook page for “The Department of Jewish Studies at SF State” compared BDS to a “cancer of online hate” and the administration did not even criticize it. Yet they try to bully me for political posts.” She added, “This is really inexcusable. I am grateful that the Department of Women and Gender Studies and several student groups, including the recently formed Jews Against Zionism, refused to be silenced and criticized President Wong.”
This fight has spilled over into Lawfare’s suit, with SFSU’s lawyers giving credence to the Zionist agenda to portray Dr. Abdulhadi’s views and BDS as “extreme and offensive” while begrudgingly acknowledging First Amendment rights.
We expect that the case will be thrown out for good. If not, however, a legal investigation into the campus administration’s inappropriate collusion with the Israel lobby will be high on Dr. Abdulhadi’s “to do” list.
Mark Kleiman and Behnam Gharagozli are the legal representatives for Dr. Abdulhadi, pro bono.