Last week, lawyers for Professor Rabab Abdulhadi filed suit in US District Court against San Francisco State University (SFSU) and top administrators including President Leslie Wong, seeking a permanent court judgment to protect the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas (AMED) program and protect the civil rights and freedom of speech of AMED director Professor Rabab Abdulhadi PhD and her students.
SFSU hired Dr. Abdulhadi in 2006 with a written promise to build a real program. “For ten years, they have refused contractually agreed support for AMED Studies. They broke their commitment to me and to the AMED community, but we built the program anyway,” said Dr. Abdulhadi. “They’ve been trying to dismantle it and prevent its institutionalization ever since. Now they’re trying to destroy it,” said Mark Kleiman, one of the lawyers for Dr. Abdulhadi.
One of Dr. Abdulhadi’s lawyers, Behnam (Ben) Gharagozli said, “The lawsuit seeks to stop the Israel Lobby’s excessive influence at SFSU and prevent anti-Palestinian organizations from continuing their proxy war against the AMED program and Dr. Abdulhadi.”
Without naming them as defendants, the legal complaint shows that SFSU is acting in concert with Zionist organizations such as AMCHA, the Jewish Community Relations Council, Hillel SF and potentially other organizations. Zionist organizations have attacked Dr. Abdulhadi and AMED with baseless legal actions, hate posters, streams of defamatory media, and abusive pressure on donors.
Kleiman and Gharagozli spent much of 2017-2018 defending Dr. Abdulhadi and SFSU against a lawsuit filed by the Lawfare Project (the self-described “legal arm of the pro-Israel community”) alleging anti-Semitism at SFSU. In October, federal judge William Orrick III dismissed the suit and did not allow Lawfare to refile. Judge Orrick ruled, citing well-established legal authorities, that Lawfare could not salvage the lawsuit. This is a milestone as it rejects the Israel Lobby’s attempts to silence free speech on Palestine on university campuses and erroneous attempts to equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. Significantly, Lawfare, even with the partnership of an otherwise prestigious and mega law firm, with nearly 1000 attorneys could not proceed with a lawsuit against a university campus where Dr. Abdulhadi scholarship, teaching and advocacy for Palestinian rights has frequently been falsely smeared as creating the worst environment for Zionist students. Now Dr. Abdulhadi’s team is taking the offensive. The suit seeks court orders to fund AMED as promised and implement institutional remedies to Islamophobia, anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian racism, along with financial damages to be determined at trial.
“The university has discriminated against Dr. Abdulhadi,” Kleiman said, “because of racism and Islamophobia, and because of her work.” Abdulhadi is a Palestinian Arab Muslim woman who often speaks, writes, and organizes in support of justice for/in Palestine as part of “the indivisibility of justice,” inspired by the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. She has created the AMED Studies academic minor that teaches about timely and necessary topics in Arab and Muslim communities. Working with community members and SFSU alumni, Dr. Abdulhadi created the Edward Said scholarship, named for the celebrated Palestinian-American scholar. She initiated and produced a memorandum of understanding with An-Najah National university in Palestine, the first and only collaborative agreement SFSU has with any Arab or Muslim site. Dr. Abdulhadi regularly opens up AMED classes to bring the university and community into conversation on matters of public concern. Dr. Abdulhadi is frequently invited to speak around the world, bringing favorable notice to SFSU. This success, along with her activism and speaking out for justice in/for Palestine as part of justice for all seems to enrage apologists for Israel.
“SFSU’s Administration is colluding with Zionist groups to try to dismantle the AMED program through harassment, retaliation, and the creation of a hostile work and study environment,” said Abdulhadi. “They place accountability to donors ahead of the public and students.”
A wide range of community and labor groups have come to Abdulhadi and AMED’s defense. The San Francisco Labor Council and the California Faculty Association have each issued statements and passed resolutions supporting Dr. Abdulhadi and AMED Studies. California Scholars for Academic Freedom, the Middle East Studies Association and a host of academic institutions and student groups around the US and the world. Community groups, including Jewish organizations, Arab, Asian, Native American and Pacific Islander, feminist, Palestinian, African-American, feminists and LGBTQI groups, and many others have released statements and demonstrated in support of AMED and Dr. Abdulhadi.
Now that Dr. Abdulhadi’s lawsuit against SFSU has been filed, SFSU is expected to file a response in Court at the end of this month.
Meanwhile, Dr. Abdulhadi continues to run AMED studies, plan popular classes and open classrooms to address issues of public importance, connect what justice for all means in tangible terms and push back against Israel’s propaganda machine.